AUGUSTA — State biologists on Tuesday recommended issuing 84,745 any-deer permits for this fall’s hunt, an increase of 28 percent from last year and the highest total since Maine launched its permit system in 1986.

The proposal mirrors objectives outlined in the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s big-game management plan, which was updated in April for the first time since 2001. The plan, which involved extensive input from the public, calls for culling the deer herd in southern and central Maine – largely over concerns about tick-borne diseases.

“The vast majority – 90 percent – of the permits are in central or southern Maine,” Judy Camuso, director of the department’s Wildlife Division, said during an IFW Advisory Council meeting Tuesday morning.

Maine also fell short of IFW’s projected doe harvest in last fall’s hunt. State biologists had projected a doe harvest of 7,114, but it came in at 5,950.

“This is one of the reasons for the proposed increase in permits for 2018,” said wildlife biologist Nathan Webb.

In nine of the state’s 29 hunting districts, mostly in southern and central Maine, the proposal would increase any-deer permits by as much as 50 percent to 75 percent.

IFW estimates there are 230,000 to 250,000 deer statewide. From 2002 to 2005, IFW allotted more than 70,000 any-deer permits annually; this year would mark the first time more than 80,000 permits are distributed. The advisory council will vote on the proposal this summer.

As recently as 2015, the department allotted only 28,770 any-deer permits after a harsh winter caused concerns about the health of the herd. The number of permits has nearly tripled since then. In 2017, 78,393 hunters applied for 66,050 permits.

In northern Maine hunting districts, permit levels will remain the same or be reduced because the winter was harder on deer, Camuso said. In six of 29 hunting districts, permits would be reduced by 50 percent to 75 percent.

“The winter severity includes the cold temperatures, the snowpack and the sinking depth for deer. It was a very severe winter up north,” she said. “But it was much less severe in the middle of the state, and a mild winter by comparison in southern Maine.”

IFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock said the dramatic increase in permits may alarm the public, but he said in general there is only one doe harvested for every 10 permits because many hunters choose to shoot a buck if given the chance.

“We are only looking to have 8,500 does harvested, not 85,000,” Woodcock said. “And it’s a south-central situation, where we have to manage the deer.”

The increase in permits made sense to hunters across the state, particularly the huge jump in southern Maine.

“We talk of leaving Aroostook County and moving closer to the grandkids in Massachusetts,” said Nick Archer, president of the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club. “But then we hear about the ticks (and Lyme disease in southern Maine). It’s like that part of the state is contaminated with them.”

White-tailed deer are a host for the deer tick, which carries the Lyme disease bacteria. In 2017, there were a record 1,787 cases of Lyme disease, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

George Fogg, president of the Cumberland Rifle and Pistol Club, said the dramatic increase in permits is welcome.

“I know the deer down here are quite thick,” said Fogg, 86, of North Yarmouth. “And there are two problems: There are fewer hunters, and more deer spread more Lyme disease. So I really want them to keep the numbers under control. When I drive at night now, I have to drive slower and watch the road carefully or one will step out in front of me.”

In Washington County, hunter Butch Moore of Milbridge said it’s widely known that southern Maine has a serious deer problem.

“It’s the story of the two Maines,” Moore said. “Southern Maine is less about hunting and we don’t have near the tick problem that they have down the coast, even in Augusta. My wife was walking her service dog two days ago outside Augusta and pulled 22 ticks off the dog.”

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