Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monitoring Maine's deer

You could ask any deer hunter how the herd is in their area and get a different answer every time.  We all want the best habitat, doe to buck ratio and a very limited number of predators in our area. What I didn’t know, is that like moose here in Maine, we have deer that are collared and monitored in order to help biologists understand the true health of the deer herd. I sat down with Maine’s deer biologist Kyle Ravana to ask him about the collaring program and what he (and IFW) hope to learn from it. 


 
Where are the deer that are being collared? And why those WMDs?
Right now, we have deer collared in WMD 17 and 6 and want to expand into either WMD 8 or 1.  17 is good because there is usually a good mix of snow pack levels and human population numbers.  6 is almost split into two regions; the west that has the big woods and the east that has farms and urban areas. We really want to get a slice of every possible habitat the deer live in so that we can have a thorough idea of what our deer are experiencing. 

What are you hoping to learn from the collaring program?
We are looking at a bunch of information; winter severity as it relates to winter mortality, how deer are using the landscape, where they are yarding up, how they are adapting to their habitat, and where they are traveling.  We also have 27 weather stations that we get information from that gives us temperature information, snow pack amounts and deer-sinking depths.

What are deer sinking depths?
Exactly what it sounds like. If we get one or two feet of snow, it is hard for the deer to move around but if there is a layer of crust that forms on the top of that snow that they can walk on, it doesn’t matter how much snow is below it, because they deer can walk on the crust and move around fairly well and still access food sources.

How do you trap a deer?
We have a variety of ways.  A Clover trap is like a large Have-A-Heart.  We jump into the trap with the deer and can usually get back out and send the deer on its way in just a couple of minutes.  The key to this whole process is to stress the deer as little as possible.  We can also use a drop net, rocket net or a dart gun.  Our goal is to have 45 deer collared in each WMD that we are in. 

Which deer are you collaring?
We will put permanent collars on does, ear tags on bucks and for any yearlings that we get, we put on a temporary collar that has a piece that biodegrades in about 6 months and falls off.  Then, we can go back and retrieve the collar, replace the piece that wore away and use it again. 

How can you tell if the collar has fallen off?
We monitor all of the collars. If any of them have not moved in 3-4 hours, then we go out and retrieve the collar to see what is going on; did it fall off or did the deer die. 

Will this help you get a better idea of predation on deer?
It could.  It will let us know how many deer are dying and what the cause was.  That information will help us with the overall index that we use.

Index?
We take all of the data that we collect and plug it into a matrix. We look at how the numbers compare year to year and that gives us an idea of the overall health of the deer population. What I am trying to do now is update our measurement tools with recent information and update the matrix so that our overall index is more accurate and relevant to what our deer are experiencing now and not twenty years old.

Do you use the index to determine any-deer permits?
That’s a part of it.  We manage on a WMD level so if there are high mortality rates in certain WMDs, then we can add or take away the number of permits that we issue per year.

Does this collaring study fit in with the new management plan that your committee, the steering committee and Department have been working on?
Yes and we really want the public to read the plan and add their input when it’s time.  We know that there are concerns about Lyme, ticks, car accidents etc.  We want to make sure that we are doing what is right for the entire state’s herd and not just managing the deer for hunters. We really want to hear what everyone has to say about the management plan.


Kyle and I then got into a conversation about people feeding deer in the winter.  You can read more about that here

Monday, February 6, 2017

Really! Stop feeding the deer

It's that time of year when deer are yarded up and surviving the harsh winter weather.  I've been fortunate enough to see lots of healthy looking deer while walking through the woods.  In talking with friends about the deer herd in their area, they have mentioned that they want to start feeding the deer to help them make it through the winter.  I quickly respond with NO! Don't feed the deer!

It is fun to see deer come out of the woods and munch on grain or corn, but what a lot of people don't realize is that feeding deer these foods during the winter months could have dire consequences and could actually kill the deer that they are trying to help.  Here are the primary reason why you should not feed deer during the winter:

Biological Impact: Every animal has bacteria in their gut that helps to break down food. In the case of white-tails, the bacteria changes depending on the season and what their primary food source will be.  In the spring, summer and early fall months, foods like grass, corn, apples, acorns etc. are easily processed to help the deer produce healthy fawns, rebuild weight lost after the winter and in the fall, help the deer put on weight to survive the long winter months.  According to an article published on qdma.com (Quality Deer Management Association), "a healthy doe begins winter with a 90-day fat supply." Depending on the severity of the winter, that can easily get them into March or beyond.

In the late fall and early winter, the bacteria in the gut changes to be able to process winter browse like parts of trees and plants.  This change means that foods like corn and grain can not be processed as effectively as they could in the summer and fall months.  According to Maine deer biologist Kyle Ravana, if deer are fed these foods, it ends up building up in their system and can go unprocessed.  The deer feel hungry because they are not getting nourishment and energy from these foods simply because their body is not made to process these types of food in the winter but there is no room in their stomach for more food to fit.  The result can be starvation.  This article from Outside magazine does a great job of describing the impact winter feeding can have and the disastrous results it can play on the local deer herd.

Disease: According to Ravana, diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (Blue Tongue) spread quickly when deer are gathered into groups. Currently, neither of these devastating diseases are present in Maine. The closest CWD has gotten to Maine is New York.  Both diseases are devastating to deer herds and can wipe out large numbers in a short period of time.  Feeding deer and causing a higher than average number of deer to be grouped up, makes it easier for these types of diseases to get shared and then spread when the deer move out of their yards in the spring.  What Maine does have is Lyme and when there is a high concentration of deer, there is also a higher probability of there being more Lyme cases.

Easy kills: As deer are lured away from their natural yarding (and protection) areas with the promise of food, they put themselves at a greater danger of being killed by vehicles.  Just this morning, my Dad reported that while out snowmobiling, he came across a guy who had hit a deer on his snowmobile.  The deer had one, maybe two, broken legs but was not dead and would need to be shot. While these incidents do happen, when you feed deer and alter their normal behaviors, you end up with a higher concentration of deer making it easier for these accidents (between cars, snowmobiles etc.) to happen.

Also, the more deer you can get into a small piece of woods, the easier you make it for predators like coyotes to get a quick meal.  Deer and coyotes both learn quickly where their food is and for coyotes, knowing that they don't have to travel far to have their pick of deer saves them time and energy during the winter months when smaller animals like mice and rabbits may be harder to find.  In areas of Maine where coyotes are impacting fawn recruitment, we don't want to help them any more than we already do.

A deer peeks out from the woods in my backyard

While we all love to see glimpses of wildlife near our homes, please do some research before feeding deer.  If you really want to help them out and own a woodlot or piece of woods, consider cutting down a tree or two to provide more winter browse and keep the deer on their normal winter diet. If we want to continue to see our deer herd grow and stay healthy, we need to be smart about the way in which we are helping them.