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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

In the northern tier of states running from Minnesota to Maine, a Caribou/Moose-Eastern Wolf/Puma/Black Bear prey/predator matrix is what the first Europeans encountered as they colonized North America.............As the colonists cut down the forests and persecuted the predators(as well as their prey), a gradual northerly movement of white tail deer took place............The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800's spurred farm abandonment in New England, with young, regenerating woodlands that Deer favor dotting the land........... As the deer multiplied, they migrated north, further aided by warming temperatures as the post LITTLE ICE AGE weather patterns(the cold weather of 1550-1850 started to abate) kicked into high gear...............So 20th century New Englanders were born into a region where they felt it was normal for large herds of deer to be present into the northerly reaches of Maine............But as Whitetails were historically absent from this region, the smaller deer populations that now occupy northern Maine are not surprising to witness, especially with less regenerating browse(food for deer) and returning sizeable populations of Black Bears alongside the "wanna-be" wolf replacements, the Eastern Coyote---both preying on deer fawns for a couple of weeks in Spring...........In addition to these mitigating deer population factors, there are fewer and fewer Winter DEER YARDS, acreage defined by old growth softwood trees that prevent deep drifts of snow from covering the ground and thus allowing for deer to browse on woody woodland undergrowth........."Currently, there are 2,800 known deer wintering areas in Maine"........... "In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were in excess of 4,000 deer wintering areas statewide"............. "In Northern Maine, deer yards represent a mere 2 percent of the forested land base"................. "That figure was once in excess of 10 percent"................. "In some parts of Eastern Maine, the deer wintering land base has shrunk to an incredible low of 1.2 percent".................Not enough public land is being managed for optimum deer yard condition in northern Maine.............."A combination of massive spruce budworm infestation in the 1970s and aggressive forest cutting practices are to blame for the loss of deer yards"............. "The short-term outlook for deer wintering areas may be plagued by an underlying economic reality"................. "During the next decade, Maine is likely to experience a continued decline of deer wintering areas as market demands increase for softwood products".............As a result, optimum habitat, is not available for deer to expand their numbers in northern Maine............I have no problem with that as less deer mean a more biologically diverse forest,,,,,,,,,,,,But hunters obvisously are upside down about trying to improve and expand deer yard habitat.............Will they succeed in this happening?

When deer yards disappear so do the deer

George Smith, 1/15/17

In the Maine Sunday Telegram on December 24, Bob Humphrey’s column on deer wintering areas was a good one, thoughtful and provocative. With Bob’s permission, I am sharing his column with you today. Here it is.
A few weeks back I offered some thoughts, facts and figures on the impact predators like coyotes have on deer. Space constraints precluded me from even mentioning black bears, which also take a healthy share of venison.
And predators in general are only one leg of the stool that impacts or supports our deer herd. They’re the low-hanging fruit, the easiest to identify and blame. There are others.
Habitat is defined as the area in which a particular species lives, seeks food, water and shelter, and reproduces. All animals require a certain amount of habitat. Biologists use the term “limiting factor” for some component of that habitat which is in shortest supply, the lowest hole in the bucket.

In Maine, the principal limiting factor for deer is suitable winter habitat.
“How is that possible when Maine has an estimated 17.5 million acres of forest land?” you ask. The operative word is suitable. They need sufficient area that meets certain criteria, including a protective canopy of older softwoods to reduce accumulated snow depth, making it easier for deer to travel for food while avoiding predators, and that also buffers the wind ameliorating temperatures. They also need nearby sources of food, primarily coarse woody browse. And they need travel corridors between yards, and between bedding and feeding areas.
Each winter, deer move into these deer wintering areas (DWAs) or deer yards, in some cases traveling enough distance to be considered a migration. Like the migrations of their larger cousins, the caribou, these migrations and destinations are traditional, the knowledge of their location passed down through successive generations. Take away one deer yard and the deer will not know where to go, even if a suitable habitat exists elsewhere. If we want to sustain a healthy deer herd, particularly in northern and Downeast Maine, we need to protect DWAs.

The state has tried several methods. Years ago I flew over, mapped and rated all the DWAs in Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Regions A and B as part of a statewide effort. Unfortunately the maps were never “officially recognized” and thus protection became largely voluntary. The greens and fairways of a rather prestigious country club just north of Portland now lie over what was once a very important deer yard. If that can happen literally in the back yards of the staunchest environmentalists, imagine what could happen in the north woods.
But the conflict places two basic tenets of our society at odds. One is the North American model of wildlife conservation, under which wildlife are common property, belonging to all citizens to be held in trust, and soundly managed by state and federal wildlife agencies.
The other is the rights of private landowners, which usually win the day. And that was the case after private (corporate) landowners successfully argued that regulations protecting DWAs deprived them of some of their rights and thus represented a taking. Our legislators agreed and urged the executors of our trust to seek alternative means of protection.

I was on the board of directors of the Maine chapter of the Wildlife Society when the concept of cooperative agreements was first introduced as a more palatable alternative. Like so many similar efforts, the well-intended agreements were labeled a blessing by some but a curse by others. Some saw them as the only viable option, given the circumstances. Others regarded them as the fox (or coyote) guarding the henhouse.
It’s important to put things into perspective. Private forest land also represents a supporting leg to a much larger stool, our state’s economy. The impact of Maine’s forest products industry is an estimated $8.5 billion. No mere pittance. And it represents jobs. But wildlife, particularly deer, should not be easily dismissed, either. Hunting (90 percent of which is directly related to white-tailed deer) brings $400 million annually to Maine’s economy. At least it used to. As the deer herd has dwindled, so have those crucial out-of-state dollars.
But before we point our respective fingers at the forest products industry, we need to take a look in the mirror, at ourselves and those charged with managing our property. Currently 92,000 acres of over 100,000 acres that MDIFW’s Wildlife Management Section is responsible for, and 571,000 acres of another 600,000 acres managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands, is not being managed for winter deer habitat. I’ve been told by state wildlife managers that none of it could ever be suitable winter habitat, but I’m skeptical.

Maybe not now, but I find it hard to believe that if properly managed, maybe 30, 50 or 75 years from now, a healthy proportion of that land could be converted to DWAs. That, combined with Maine’s substantial land trust lands, could provide a substantial boost to our dwindling deer herd.

Where Have All the Deer Yards Gone? 
by V. Paul Reynolds

With the onslaught of winter - plummeting temperatures, high winds and driving snow - Maine's whitetail deer population is digging in for the duration. To survive, our statewide deer population, estimated to be in excess of 250,000, must find two things: thermal shelter and browse. These are found in places called deer yards, or deer wintering areas. According to Maine's deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, "deer are highly dependent on wintering habitat for survival every year."

Typically, a deer yard will be an area where there is what wildlife biologists call a "high softwood crown closure." The canopies of large softwood trees provide some thermal shelter from deep snow, penetrating cold and bitter wind. Available browse in these deer yards usually consists of litterfall, which comprises leaves, twigs and aboreal lichen.

For deer, especially in the North and Western mountains of Maine, winter is a precarious life-and-death struggle. Depending upon winter's severity index, deer mortality can range from 3 percent to as high as 35 percent.

 In January and February, there is a slowing of a deer's metabolic rate with less demand for calories. Not only can deer resorb their muscle tissue to provide desperately needed calories, the accumulated fat in their bodies can be burned as body fuel when winter browse is scarce. During the winter yarding period, which averages about 135 days in the north and close to 100 days in the more southerly sections of the state, fragile fawns and older bucks that are worn out from the fall rut are the most vulnerable to winter mortality. Many of Maine's deer yards have been used by wintering whitetails repeatedly for as long as 50 years.

Food and warmth aren't the only problems that confront wintering whitetails. A recent study indicates that coyotes take as many deer each year as deer hunters. In fact, given Maine's run of relatively mild winters, more wintering deer are being lost to predation than malnutrition.

As state biologists prepare Maine's next 15-year plan for deer management, which is due to be approved early this year, deer wintering habitat (deer yards) has become the focal point. Over the past decade, there has been a marked decline in deer wintering areas, especially in Northern and Eastern Maine where deer populations are down.
When compared with the ideal percentage of deer wintering areas, which is about 10 percent of the land base, the statistics are striking:

Currently, there are 2,800 known deer wintering areas in Maine.
  • In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were in excess of 4,000 deer wintering areas statewide.
  • In Northern Maine (Wildlife Management Districts 1-6), deer yards represent a mere 2 percent of the forested land base. That figure was once in excess of 10 percent.
  • In some parts of Eastern Maine (Wildlife Management District 19) the deer wintering land base has shrunk to an incredible low of 1.2 percent.
Why the significant decline in deer yards? According to Lavigne, a combination of massive spruce budworm infestation in the 1970s and aggressive forest cutting practices are to blame for the loss of deer yards. Despite the ambitious 15-year goals to be outlined in the 15-year deer management plan, the short-term outlook for deer wintering areas may be plagued by an underlying economic reality. During the next decade, according to Lavigne, Maine is likely to experience a continued decline of deer wintering areas as market demands increase for softwood products.

For many years, Maine's deer wintering habitat has been under the jurisdictional eye of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC). Under LURC, the zoning approach to deer yard protection, according to Lavigne, leaves much to be desired. Although it is still early in the game, wildlife managers seemed to be having better success by protecting deer yards through cooperative working agreements between large timberland owners and the Fish and Wildlife Department. Champion International, for example, has been working closely with wildlife managers in designating deer wintering habitat for protection. According to Lavigne, upwards of 15 percent of Champion's timberland base is now protected deer wintering areas. Other large landowners are expected to come aboard as national mega-retailers such as Home Depot insist on doing business only with environmentally enlightened manufacturers.

Increasing the number and quality of Maine's deer wintering areas, is a key component of the 15-year deer management plan to be approved this year. This objective reflects the direct, known relationship between widely varying deer populations and widely varying deer wintering areas from Kittery to Fort Kent.

The management plan will set deer population goals that include a range of between 10 and 20 deer per square mile, depending upon geography, topography and weather conditions. In Northern Maine, a population of 10 deer per square mile, which is far more than current populations, will require 780,000 acres of wintering areas, or 8 percent of the landbase. (It is currently about 2 percent).
In Western Maine, the goal is 15 deer per square mile, which will require a wintering area land base of about 9.5 percent( It's currently about 4.1 percent).

In Downeast Maine, the goal is 15 deer per square mile. This is an ambitious goal in as much as the current wintering areas in this deer-poor area represent about 1.5 percent of the existing land base.
In Central Maine, where current deer populations are thriving, the 15-year goal is 15 to 20 deer per square mile. According to Lavigne, deer wintering areas in this part of Maine are "pretty decent," though he concedes that deer wintering habitat in this area is "poorly understood."

In Southern and Coastal Maine, the problem ironically is not deer yards as much as it is an excess of deer in some semi-rural areas and residential perimeters where hunting activity is low, or prohibited by local gun discharge ordinances. There, deer populations vary from 10 to 100 animals per square mile! The deer management challenge is more social than biological. A dramatically higher deer harvest with more areas open to controlled deer hunts will be required to maintain deer populations at socially tolerable levels.

If the 15-year deer management plan is successful, the end result by 2015 will be a deer herd of 384,000 statewide (13 deer per square mile), and an annual deer harvest by hunters of about 46,000. This will require a dramatic turnabout in the quantity and quality of Maine's deer wintering areas or deer yards. Lavigne says that the plan calls for 1.7 million acres of protected deer yards, or about 9.1 percent of state timberland.

Only ghosts of caribou move through our woods

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