FRENCHBORO — Maine game wardens and federal wildlife officials have charged six men for allegedly killing nearly 70 snowshoe hares over the legal limit on remote, uninhabited Great Duck Island here Saturday.
Five hunters from Massachusetts and a man from Southwest Harbor were confronted Saturday, March 18, for allegedly killing 67 snowshoe hares over their limit. Working on a tip, a team of Maine game wardens, Maine Marine Patrol officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents closed in on the group that had been hunting on Great Duck Island Saturday.
The group of six had killed 87 hares during their day of hunting, said a statement from the warden service. One individual also was summonsed for hunting without a license. Great Duck Island is in the town limits of Frenchboro and is an approximately 10-mile boat ride from Southwest Harbor.
Those summonsed include Andrew Mays, 52, of Southwest Harbor, 10 snowshoe hares over the limit; Carlos Almeida, 47, from Acushnet, Mass., hunting without a license and 10 hares over the limit; Abilio Fernandes, 61, of New Bedford, Mass., 10 hares over the limit; Luis Fidalgo, 52, of North Dartmouth, Mass., 10 hares over the limit; Antonio Fidalgo, 54, of Acushnet, Mass., 10 hares over the limit; and Antonio Borges, 69, from Acushnet, Mass., 10 hares over the limit.
The island, which has a lighthouse on its southern end, is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Approximately 1.5 miles long and .5 miles wide, the island is frequently used by College of the Atlantic (COA) researchers studying sea birds.
The former lighthouse is now officially the Alice Eno Field Research Station. Some websites mention that the hares, introduced to the island by previous owners in the 1930s, were having a deleterious affect on island vegetation.
According to COA Professor John Anderson, the organizations that control the island, which at one time was home to a flock of sheep as well, are aware that hunting takes place. As long as it is during the winter months, when nesting seabirds are not on Great Duck, it hasn’t been seen as a problem.
He estimated the entire hare population on the island at “a couple hundred” and said that they expect to see fewer following this incident. During the course of a season, they might see a dozen, he said.
Anderson said that researchers are actively looking at the hare’s impact on vegetation and how that might affect the island’s attractiveness for nesting sea birds, petrels in particular. Several areas have been fenced off from the hares to see how the vegetation grows unmolested.
There is some evidence that hares – and in earlier years, sheep – resulted in there being more field and less forest on the island. “This may be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. We know that petrels seem to prefer spruce forest to nest in, but we also hypothesize that the hare suppress the understory and thereby may also create petrel habitat. So, keep the hare, lose the trees. Lose the hare, get dense understory. In either case, it’s a bad situation for petrels,” he said.
Anderson has been in contact with researchers on a similar island in the Bay of Fundy where hares are being removed to see if petrel nesting success improves.
Anderson said that a forester consulted about the hares on Great Duck believes that “there won’t be much of a forest left in the next 10 years if the bunnies keep doing what they do.”
A private home on the island’s north end is available for seasonal rental. A rental website notes that the island’s many hares “are often seen scurrying about.”
Maine is home to two rabbit-like species, the snowshoe hare and the cottontail rabbit. The rabbit, found only south of Portland, is an endangered species.
The open season on snowshoe hares runs from October through the end of March. Licensed hunters are allowed to take four in any one day and have a maximum of eight in their possession. The penalty for violating bag limits includes a fine. The commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife can suspend a hunting license upon conviction of any violation of fish and game laws.