Deer in Winter

Deer in Winter

First, apologies for missing a week but I somehow got lost in the transition from summer fishing to fall hunting, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Furthermore, I may have pulled the trigger on switching over a tad too soon as you all never got to hear about my tuna. We’ll just have to save that for some cold winter’s eve. Now, on to the current.

It seems our elected officials have been very busy protecting us from ourselves. It never ceases to amaze me how certain pieces of legislation can slip through the cracks and get passed, despite my receiving weekly legislative updates from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. A couple I recently wrote about in the Maine Sunday Telegram (excerpted below) include two bills associated with feeding/baiting deer.

Near as I can tell, LDs 1083 and 767 are a knee-jerk response to several proposals to allow deer hunting over bait. Maine currently prohibits the practice though numerous other states, including New Hampshire, allow it. Still, proposals pop up every year with a surprising level of support given how devastating it could be to Maine’s already tenuous deer herd.

Response to this year’s proposals was fast and furious. LD 1083 calls for a mandatory hunting license revocation for a first offense and permanent loss for a second one. Clearly, the State wants to send a message they are serious about prosecuting offenders. This includes everyone from those who set up an Agway store in the woods to those who kick an apple a few feet closer to their stand. I wish they were as serious about those who drive deer, especially the ones who make no effort whatsoever to conceal what they’re doing. Regardless, it makes sense to prosecute violators.

But with LD 767 we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. It prohibits putting out salt or any other bait or food to entice deer from June 1 December 15. Previously, one could place bait until two weeks before the season. IFW Wildlife Division Director Judy Camuso spoke in favor, noting, “Given all the issues associated with feeding and baiting deer (increased disease transmission, increased vehicle collisions, poor feed quality etc), the Department supports extending the prohibition…” Say what?

If you look on IFW’s website you’ll find several documents on why the Department discourages feeding deer… in the winter (after December 15). Essentially, it is because of the reasons cited above by Camuso. The State even passed legislation a couple years ago making it unlawful to feed deer in the winter, but only after it is determined such feeding represents some threat to health and human, or deer safety. In other words, it’s loosely worded enough that the law has no teeth.

LD 767 provided an opportunity to add some teeth but instead, it turned away from winter feeding and addressed the (pre and during hunting season) period from June 1 – December 15. And as it’s already illegal to hunt over bait, all it really did was make it illegal to feed prior to hunting season, when feeding deer would have little if any effect on those issues cited above. Meanwhile, other testimony supported the proposal based on the potential spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which currently does not occur in Maine.

Let’s be honest here. This bill has absolutely nothing to do with disease, collisions or dogs and everything to do with preventing hunters from pre-bating before the season (creating a problem where none previously existed). Lord knows, we wouldn’t want our hunters to be more successful than they already are, lest they should kill too many deer. Then again, we can accomplish that by handing out a ridiculously high number of any-deer permits, something I’ll address in a future blog.

Categories: Legislation

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