The large population of whitetail deer on Mount Desert Island, and the frequency of car-deer accidents, is again becoming a serious concern.
Many residents enjoy seeing deer around and some consider the animals part of the island’s outdoorsy “brand” for visitors. But, as a resident at a Southwest Harbor selectmen’s meeting recently pointed out, if the harm from car-deer accidents and Lyme disease were caused by human activity, towns would have acted more decisively to address the issue.
All of Mount Desert Island was closed to deer hunting in the early 1930s by a special act of the Maine Legislature in response to requests from island summer residents. Property owners can apply for special permits from state game wardens to hunt deer on their own land if they meet spatial requirements and can prove a nuisance problem.
In 2014, a proposal from a Bar Harbor deer herd control task force was rejected by voters, 54 percent to 46 percent, a margin of about 200 votes.
Under the proposal, areas outside of the town would have been opened to a special wintertime deer hunt for one or more seasons. The hunt would have allowed use of firearms from a fixed location, along with a fixed attractant. A regular fall archery hunt, controlled by state officials, would have followed in perpetuity.
Opponents of the hunt said they preferred “learning to live with the deer.” But not enough has been done to improve and manage the relationship.
The League of Towns agreed in October 2017 to make addressing tick-borne diseases one of their areas of focus for the following year. A representative of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and prevention told the group that turkeys as well as deer are transporters of the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. The League of Towns held a public forum, and distributed tick-removal spoons, but did not propose policy changes to address the deer and disease problems.
Opposition to hunting is still strong, so a hunt may not be a solution. But it’s time for MDI towns, inter-town groups, Acadia National Park and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to work together to gather current, reliable information about the deer herd and deer-human interactions and propose options for addressing the problem.
The fact that such a facility did not require planning board review seems to have been the first surprise in the whole expensive, contentious domino-effect situation.