October 21, 2020 at 4:08 pm
By Wildlife Promotional Coordinator Lauren McPherson
It’s that time of the year again; thousands of sportsmen and women have flooded Maine’s woods with orange, carrying traps, bows, and guns. While many assume hunters and trappers are simply taking valuable resources from our incredible state, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife frequently refers to hunters and trappers as conservationists, contributing invaluable data to our state’s biologists to help predict population trends, evaluate the stability of game species, and contribute to disease monitoring and prevention. While a successful harvest can be a proud moment for a hunter or trapper who has invested time and energy, their contribution to wildlife starts long before the hunt and lasts long after the hunt is over.
Prior to any harvest, the purchase of a license and proper gear commences the contribution to our state’s wildlife. Excise tax on the sales of guns and ammunition contributes approximately 25% of funding and the Pittman-Robertson Act (funded through an 11% federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment and a 10% excise tax on handguns) provides approximately 75% of funding for the selection, restoration, and improvement of wildlife habitat, management and research.
After the hunt, submission of biological data is either required or requested of hunters, allowing biologists to gather information they would otherwise have no means of collecting. Teeth are collected from harvested moose, bear, deer, and all furbearers. When evaluated, a tooth provides information on the age of the individual and insight on age structure of the population. Submitting teeth allows biologists to predict population trends for the following year for proper permit distributions. While there are similarities in data collection across species, each have their own unique methods of assessment as well. For example, tooth submission for furbearers allow MDIFW Furbearer Biologist Shevenell Webb to mathematically model changes in species populations. With Maine's furbearer populations at the highest they’ve been in 100 years, trappers manage predators like raccoon and skunk to maintain and restore species like coastal seabirds such as the Atlantic puffin, least tern, common eider, and piping plover. In addition to providing biological data for furbearers, all trappers must submit harvest reports so biologists can track the amount of effort it takes to capture each species. Trappers also report emerging diseases, such as mange, and other interesting or unusual observations from the field, working hand and hand with biologists to monitor wildlife population stability and health.
This year, you may have noticed that a higher than normal amount of any deer permits was issued in some areas of the state. Considering the previous year’s harvest and winter conditions as well as biological data, MDIFW Deer Biologist Nathan Bieber and game wardens collaborated and determined that more antlerless deer needed to be harvested to stabilize the population in some areas and reach management goals statewide. Biological data such as yearling frequencies, yearling antler beam diameters and lactation status are collected to give estimates of mortality rates, population status related to food availability, and fawn recruitment respectively. Additionally, lymph nodes are collected in high risk areas for Chronic Wasting Disease monitoring, a neurological disease that effects cervids and has been identified in 26 states and four Canadian provinces. Surveillance of CWD in our deer and preventing potentially infectious deer harvested in other states from entering our state is the best method of prevention.
Maine supports one of the largest black bear populations in the lower-48 states. With bear season starting off with a near record number of bears harvested, this method of management is vital for keeping our bear population at healthy levels. MDIFW Bear Biologist Jen Vashon, along with her predecessors and a number of supporting staff, have spent decades studying radio-collared black bears in Maine; one of the longest running black bear research programs in the United States. In 2008, the Maine Legislature established the bear research fund providing another conservation opportunity through the sale of bear hunting and trapping permits. Data from Maine’s bear research and monitoring program and hunter harvest including tooth submission mentioned above, is vital to Maine’s management of an abundant bear resource. In recent years, MDIFW has encouraged higher bear hunting participation, to keep bear numbers healthy and in balance with available food and resources for black bears.
In addition to tooth submission and antler spread, MDIFW Moose Biologist Lee Kantar assesses reproductive data from the cow hunt. Moose are an iconic species in Maine, and while the population is stable, they have begun to face the challenges of climate change and winter tick. If you were lucky enough to be chosen for the antlerless hunt, bring the ovaries to the moose check station, aiding MDIFW in the monitoring of health and growth of individual moose as well as populations. Ovaries indicate ovulation and potential pregnancy rate of a cow, which fluctuates with disease, parasites, and food availability.
Game bird hunters contribute valuable data that helps biologists estimate annual harvest and survival of our precious game bird resource. From reporting a banded duck or goose, to contributing wings of harvested woodcock to the national Harvest Information Program (HIP), the Department is able to estimate the overall harvest of these species to inform annual harvest recommendations. While hunting for large game, or upland birds, take the opportunity to harvest grouse and request a West Nile Virus testing kit to monitor our grouse population, contributing to a national effort to monitor this disease. From past samples submitted by hunters, Maine is showing a very low occurrence of West Nile Virus in grouse. MDIFW Game Bird Biologist Kelsey Sullivan oversees game bird management and research projects that monitor nesting success, seasonal and annual survival rates, disease, and habitat use across landscape. From turkeys to grouse, woodcock to waterfowl, report your band to assist in monitoring.
If you are someone who submits data, please continue carrying the role of hunter and conservationist. If you are someone interested in proper wildlife management, consider reconnecting with nature and improving your health through outdoor recreation and the harvest of clean, organic food. We thank you for your service!