Deer statistics remain elusive



BAR HARBOR — Many of the questions surrounding proposed deer management measures are centered around the fact that there is little science on the current deer population.

Wildlife officials do not know the size or condition of the deer herd here, opponents of the hunt say, so any attempts to manage the population will be based on speculation. This lack of scientific knowledge about area deer is reason enough to vote down any management plan, opponents state.

However, there are only two ways to acquire the type of knowledge that opponents are clamoring for, says regional wildlife biologist Tom Schaeffer. The town can either hold a deer hunt or engage in very expensive, labor-intensive studies, which neither the town, the state nor Acadia National Park has expressed an interest in paying for.

During deer hunting seasons, hunters are required to bring their deer to an official tagging station. It is through these stations that state biologists learn about the deer in each area. Through studying the teeth and antlers of the animals, they are able to determine the health of the deer herd, the population split between males and females, breeding habits and the herd’s relationship to the land. This info is collected annually in nearly every region of the state; Mount Desert Island is one of the only areas that bans hunting of deer entirely.

Biologists can also look at individual tick levels on the deer they are examining. Because deer are the final host for adult deer ticks, reviewing tick levels on the animals can be a great index to judge the success of management efforts.

But before any of this can occur, the town will need to approve the management plan set before them in balloting on Nov. 4. Schaeffer, who is a member of the deer herd control task force that created the hunt proposal, said that in his opinion, the vote is going to come down to a philosophical opinion.

“New England and other parts of the county have found that hunting is the most effective management tool we have,” Schaeffer said. “And I think the bottom line is that it really comes down to whether people recognize hunting as a legitimate management tool.”

As far as the effectiveness of a hunt in a place like Bar Harbor where half the land mass is taken up by Acadia National Park, which does not allow hunting of any kind, Schaeffer admits that it will be limited. But, he said, limited effectiveness is better than none at all.

“It’s true. Between the anti-firearms discharge ordinance that exists in Bar Harbor proper and the park, there’s a significant percentage of land where hunting will not be permitted. So, that presents something of a problem. However, you have to start somewhere,” Schaeffer said. “Would it be as effective as if the entire town was open to the program? Probably not. Will it reduce the deer population overall? Yes, it will. So, can it have an impact on reducing some of these problems that have been identified by Bar Harbor residents? Sure.”

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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