Wild animals are a significant problem throughout our country, and deer are one of the biggest problems. Tom Rawinski, a U.S. Forest Service botanist in the Northeast, told the Property and Environment Research Center that overabundant whitetails are “the greatest conservation challenge of our time.”

According to PERC, in one state a hunter can kill a deer a day for more than 100 days. By 2000, American drivers were hitting 3,000 to 4,000 deer per day. Deer-vehicle collisions kill upwards of 300 people and hospitalize nearly 30,000 more annually.

Within an hour’s drive of Mount Vernon last year almost 300 deer were killed in motor vehicle collisions. A lot of them are collected by my friend Bob in Mount Vernon to feed his lions. I remember the first time I drove across Pennsylvania I was astonished by all the dead deer along the highway.

As the PERC article says, “By the 1980s, whitetail populations started to explode, especially in suburban, exurban, and rural areas where more people were living and where hunting was highly restricted. … Instead of five to 15 deer per square mile, as was common in rural areas, sprawl was accommodating 40, 80, or even in excess of 100 deer per square mile.

“Where allowed in the United States, some 11 million hunters kill about 6 million deer annually—not nearly enough to stabilize, let alone reduce, populations.”

When I started writing this column, a doe deer was hanging out on our side lawn. Twice she has brought out her little fawn. In central and southern Maine the deer herd is substantial.

But we failed to protect critical deer wintering areas in the north woods and after two bad winters, we lost our deer herd up there. A couple years later I got a letter from a group of Massachusetts hunters who had been hunting our north woods for many years. They had just finished deer hunting the north woods for a week on snow and said they hadn’t even seen a single deer track. They told me they were done hunting in Maine. We have lost a lot of nonresident hunters.

And deer aren’t the only problem. In the Western states everything from wolves to wild horses are a problem. I just read a news story about the horrible problem they’re having in South Florida with iguanas, which are not native to the state. They dig up everything from sidewalks to foliage, and poop on docks, decks, boats, and swimming pools. Yuck! And the males can grow to 5 feet long. Florida officials are encouraging people to kill them.

Here in Maine we have a very high population of bears. Our Department of the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife thinks we need to reduce that population, and they are considering allowing hunters to shoot two bears; right now they’re limited to one bear. I’m not sure that most hunters would actually want to shoot more than one bear.

Coyotes have been a controversial wild critter since they arrived in Maine. There’s actually an organization that advocates for coyotes and opposes any effort to kill them. But they are trapped and hunted with dogs. IF&W also has a group in northern Maine to kill coyotes during winter when they threaten deer in their wintering areas.

There are lots of small critters that I don’t like to see in our yard, including woodchucks, porcupines, and skunks. I used to shoot them all. One year we had three woodchucks eating in my wife Linda’s gardens. I shot two of them but didn’t get a chance at the third. We were going on a trip, so a friend came down and trapped the third and removed it.

But when we got home our neighbors told us they’d seen an eagle flying up the road carrying a woodchuck and it dropped the woodchuck on our front lawn and the woodchuck ran off. Great. Eagles were delivering them now.

One night I was late for a selectmen’s meeting. You go down some steps and cross my workshop to reach the door to the garage. It was dark but I was in a hurry so I didn’t turn on the light. When I reached the door, I felt our cat walk across my foot so I reached down to pet it, and a skunk blasted me right in the face.

I ran upstairs throwing off my clothes, which Linda threw away, and I jumped in the shower. Eventually I got to the selectmen’s meeting, but nobody sat near me!

Now I have to admit that I love living in Maine’s wild kingdom. We’ve been enjoying all the baby birds on the lawn, from geese to robins. A grouse up the road has babies, and we often see our neighborhood fox. Our stream is loaded with everything from otters to beavers. And snapping turtles are laying their eggs in Linda’s flower garden.

OK, she doesn’t like that!

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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