SWAN’S ISLAND — Officials on Swan’s Island have decided to end a deer reduction program and continue to allow open deer hunting during the regular season.
“It really didn’t work,” said Selectman Sonny Sprague about the program done in collaboration with the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife division. “Everybody wants to get a buck. The buck isn’t the problem, he doesn’t have babies… It was a lot of effort and it just wasn’t worth it.”
This isn’t the first time a deer reduction program has been initiated on Swan’s Island. Because of a prevalence of Lyme disease among residents, officials opted to start this one in 2017. On Swan’s Island, the deer reduction program was a firearms-based program that happened after hunting season with local cooperators on designated land.
Reduction programs typically run for four years in order to cull deer in an overpopulated area, but this one ended a year early.
“It was coming to an end anyways,” said Steve Dunham, a regional wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW). “It was a short term program to reduce deer population due to the prevalence of (deer) ticks.”
According to state law, deer hunting on Swan’s Island is prohibited, but residents voted to allow it.
“If you look at state law, it’s technically closed,” said Dunham in a phone interview. “There is an out in that law where if everyone in town agrees and votes on it, they can allow hunting.”
Because hunting is allowed, anyone with a state license can hunt deer on the island in designated areas with permission from property owners. The island is also located within the state’s expanded archery zone, which means hunters using a bow can harvest one male and one female deer during that season. Hunters are also allowed to purchase as many doe permits as they desire, an additional effort to reduce the herd.
“Right now, they’ve decided they’d like to see if the expanded archery program accomplishes what they need it to,” said Dunham, adding that season is from Sept. 11 to Dec. 11 each year.
Last year, the number of deer harvested during the regular hunting season was significantly higher than it had been the previous two years. There were 79 deer tagged in 2020, 54 in 2019 and 37 in 2018, according to the DIFW records. Those numbers do not include the deer harvested specifically for the deer reduction program, which was another 15 in 2018 and 14 in 2019. While those numbers are similar, there were 12 does and three bucks harvested in 2018 versus five does and nine bucks in 2019.
Hunting on an island can be tricky between trying to navigate allowable areas and transporting deer to the mainland to be tagged if Officer Rob Morang is not available. Morang, an employee of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, lives on Swan’s Island and is the person who tags harvested deer.
“It’s me,” he said when asked where people go. “There’s no formal place. I usually meet people at their house.”
There are some residents who bring their deer on the ferry to Mount Desert Island and have it tagged at Gott’s Store. Deer hunting is not allowed on MDI, but some might say the herd is culled by the number of car/deer accidents that occur throughout the year. Those aren’t as common on Swan’s Island.
“The highest speed limit on the island is 40 miles per hour,” said Morang. “There are car/deer accidents out here, but not a lot of them.”