Are food plots the same as baiting deer?

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 Three deer bills last week focused on deer feeding and deer baiting, opening up a lengthy discussion on both hot topics.

LD 1083 would increase the penalties for hunting deer over bait. It was sponsored by Rep. Tuell of Washington County at the request of Mike Look, a sportsman activist in that neck of the woods. The bill would establish a mandatory fine of $500 and loss of hunting license for one year for hunters convicted of baiting deer.

DIF&W’s Warden Colonel Joel Wilkinson testified in favor of the bill, reporting that the agency averages over 100 deer baiting cases per year. ”We believe that an increased mandatory fine combined with a mandatory one year license suspension will provide an adequate level of deterrent,” testified Joel.

Mike Look, as part of his testimony for the bill, handed out a very interesting report on baiting and deer feeding regulations in other states.

Deer Feeding

Deer feeding is popular these days in Maine, although DIF&W continues to discourage it. Representative Lance Harvell offered LD 767 to tighten up the rules by prohibiting deer feeding from August 15 to December 15.

Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association supported the bill while Dave Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine opposed it.

DIF&W testified in favor of the bill and IFW Committee member Rep. Steve Wood suggested an earlier start date of June 1 for the ban.

Judy Camuso, DIF&W’s Wildlife Division Director, delivered the agency’s testimony, 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 on feeding deer.

Judy reported that in the northern section of the state, 150 deer were killed last year in vehicle collisions, more than were killed during the deer hunting season. She was particularly concerned about urine based and scent based feed and licks, which could result in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease – something that hasn’t yet been found in Maine deer but is getting closer to our state every year.

John Glowa of China, Maine, supported the bill and included a document from Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources reporting that they are using sharpshooters to kill deer in areas where CWD has been documented.

Current law that allows you to plant a crop in front of your deer stand, but not harvest a crop from your home garden and carry it out to your stand. Lots of hunters are now planting crops to attract deer to the stands. This seems like deer baiting to me.

Crop Damage

The Maine Farm Bureau proposed LD 1020, sponsored by Rep. Russell Black, to expand the Fish and Wildlife Department’s authority to schedule special deer hunts to help farmers protect their crops.

The bill would actually require the department to open communities to deer hunting to achieve this goal. While current law permits this, it does not require it. The bill also would give the agency authority to schedule special hunting seasons and zones to minimize crop or property damage.

Dr. Alicyn Smart, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, said “the reason for this (bill) is due to the issues our blueberry farmers are having in Harrington, Addison and Milbridge. Although the overall population in the wildlife management district is low, there are very high populations in these towns. The district is buck only and the issues have been occurring for years.”

She noted that cranberry farmers are also have lots of deer problems, and some smaller blueberry growers have given it up due to heavy deer damage.

Alicyn passed out and talked about the Food Safety Modernization Act. “When a crop is eaten and/or an animal defecates in the field, that area cannot be harvested,” she said. “As you might imagine, when there are high populations of deer in the field, this can become problematic. This is not just a nuisance issue, it is a food safety issue.”

Alicyn also noted that although the bill was submitted due to problems in Washington County, she gets deer complaints from farmers throughout the state.

Dan Harriman of Harrington, who works for Wyman’s Blueberries but was testifying only for himself, reported that hunters in his area focus on killing coyotes and have done a great job, thereby increasing the deer population. “Deer mow blueberry lands in the spring,” he noted.

And despite the fact that farmers can get depredation permits to kill problem deer, he felt strongly that it was preferable for the department to schedule a hunt. Dan said he has been working on this problem for three years, and has met with DIF&W’s Commissioner twice seeking help.

One member of the IFW Committee suggested that the department stop coyote hunting in that area, while another pursued the idea of noise devices that might drive deer away.

Judy Camuso delivered the department’s testimony in opposition to the bill, reporting that the agency has a bill coming soon “that will provide the Commissioner the authority to open a town or a designated geographical area to the taking of antlerless deer with a Wildlife Management District that does not allow the taking of antlerless deer.”

Judy also noted that “the Commissioner currently has the authority through rule-making to allow special hunts, which typically occur outside the regular firearms season on deer, as well as an option to designate towns for expanded archery.” She said the agency believes they have all the tools they need to “assist local communities.”

They did schedule a special archery hunt last December in Eastport, at the request of residents there, to reduce the deer herd, but only about 30 deer were killed. Residents rejected DIF&W’s suggestion that they open the area to regular deer hunting.

And that, in my experience, has been the biggest problem in dealing with high deer populations and crop damage. I advised some hunters on Mount Desert Island who were trying to schedule a deer hunt there, but residents fought it and defeated the proposal, despite the fact that DIF&W supported it.

I do believe that, as Lyme and other tick borne diseases spread throughout the state, it will be a whole lot easier for the department to schedule hunts to reduce dense deer populations.

 

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