Deer yards: landmark legislation

By V. Paul Reynolds

In a deep-winter state like Maine, deer wintering areas, or yards, are a critical component of deer survival. In fact, according to recent legislative testimony from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, our deer yards have declined from 12 percent of the forest to just 3 percent:  we have not done a very good job of identifying major deer-wintering areas and protecting them from the logger’s ax.

SAM, and its deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, told the legislators recently that lack of deer wintering areas are the main cause in the decline of whitetail deer, particularly in Western, Eastern and Northern Maine. Predation on deer by coyotes and bears is the number two cause of dwindling deer numbers.

State regulations, along with cooperative management agreements with some big landowners, were supposed to have protected these critical deer wintering areas. But they just have not done the job.

SAM’s bill, LD 404, an Act to Preserve Deer Habitat, is ostensibly a deer yard protection measure. Sponsored by Rep. Johansen and spearheaded by SAM, this legislation directs the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to identify priority deer yards in specific regions of the state and, based on the Department’s priorities, identify these yards for purchase and management as Department- owned deer-wintering areas.

The key to success of this deer-yard initiative is simply this: IF&W would receive funds to actually purchase these significant deer wintering areas and protect them in perpetuity. The yards would become part of IF&W’s land management portfolio. IF&W currently owns and manages 100,000 acres, but only a small percentage of this land contains deer-wintering areas.

Of course, it takes money to purchase deer yards from private wildland owners. This commendable initiative by SAM only works if it is adequately bankrolled. LD 404 addresses the funding issue.

This legislation strengthens the Land for Maine’s Future program statute to prioritize the purchase of deer yards and places protections on the sale agreements to ensure, at the time of closing, the deer yard still exists; furthermore, the legislation places deed restrictions on the property to protect it as a deer yard into perpetuity.  It also establishes a deer yard management plan and allows up to five percent of the LMF proceeds to pay for the plan.

This legislation also directs the Fish and Wildlife Department, not only to identify major deer yards, but to explore additional methods of generating revenues to be earmarked for deer yard purchases.

SAM Rep. Johansen, and others who supported this bill, deserve the appreciation of all sportsmen and non-hunting citizens as well. Protecting our whitetail deer population makes a lot of sense, economically and otherwise.

So far the news is good! LD 404 was recently reported out of committee with a unanimous ought-to-pass vote. Let us hope that is fares as well once it reaches floor debate, and that sportsmen contact their respective lawmakers urging them to get behind this important piece of landmark legislation.

The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com. or www.sportingjournal.com. Contact email — vpaulr@tds.net.

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