A lot has changed in the great Maine outdoors. The worst change is deer ticks — they’ve made enjoying the outdoors a real challenge.

It got to the point that if I found a tick embedded in my skin, I just called my primary care doctor and he would call in a prescription for me. I don’t get outdoors much anymore, because of my illness, ALS, but my wife Linda spends a lot time outside gardening and every day she would come in and have ticks on her, even though she took every precaution to prevent that.

One time I was seated in the audience at a legislative hearing when I felt a bug walking across the back of my neck. I grabbed it, and sure enough, it was a deer tick, so I took it to the men’s room and disposed of it. When I got back to my seat, the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked what that was. When I told him it was a deer tick, he said I should have put it on someone I didn’t like!

Turkeys and coyotes are also new to Maine. Coyotes got here on their own but our fish and wildlife department introduced turkeys, which have become a real nuisance for many, particularly farmers. The 2019 fall harvest of turkeys was 1,980, down dramatically from 3,507 in 2018.

I talked with Judy Camuso, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, about this, and was pleased that she now supports my legislative bill to eliminate the need to get a permit to hunt turkeys in the fall. My bill last session to do that was opposed by IF&W and carried over to the 2020 legislative session, when it will be considered again.

The commissioner tried to increase the turkey harvest in 2019 by increasing the bag limit in a bunch of districts; obviously that didn’t work. Very few hunters pursue turkeys in the fall.

By eliminating the fall hunting permit requirement, it would be possible for any hunter to shoot turkeys in the fall. For example, if you are hunting grouse and saw a turkey, you could shoot it. And if you saw a couple dozen turkeys on your lawn, you could go out and shoot some of them.

Our high population of coyotes is also a problem, although there is a group urging IF&W to protect them by banning hunting and trapping. Coyotes kill a lot of deer, which is a significant problem.

Camuso is also considering ways to reduce our high population of 45,000 bears. The black bear harvest this year was 2,371, a decrease of nearly 1,000 from the previous year’s harvest of 3,314.

One possibility is allowing you to trap one bear and shoot one bear. Another thing they’re considering is to allow hunters to shoot two bears. That would probably be limited to southern and central Maine. But guides in northern Maine are already objecting to this. I have doubts that bear hunters would actually want to shoot two bears.

One problem that makes managing wildlife populations difficult is a significant decrease in the number of people who are hunting. The loss of nonresident hunters has been especially tough on our sporting camps and guides.

There is some good news if you like loons, as I do. Maine has the largest population of loons in the Eastern United States, although the numbers dipped slightly in 2019. But the 3,129 loons counted last year was double what we had in the 1980s.

We have so many loons now that they have become a problem in some places for anglers. Loons chase them and grab their fish. Up to our camp I had loons try to grab my brook trout as I reeled them in. One loon, when he could not grab my trout before I got into the boat, raced around our boat flapping its wings and screeching at us.

And that brings us to eagles, whose population is now much higher than we ever anticipated. And eagles kill a lot of other birds, including loons. In 2018, an eagle killed both of our baby loons on Minnehonk Lake behind our house. I have an eagle that sits in a tree alongside the stream right outside my office window, hoping to see something he can kill and eat.

Bald eagles were not always as common in Maine as they are today. In 1962, only 27 nesting pairs were found across the state. After decades of monitoring and implementation of intensive management practices, Maine’s bald eagle population recovered to approximately 503 nesting pairs by 2009. Currently, the population is 734 nesting pairs.

One year I wrote a column proposing an eagle hunting season. And I wrote that I thought the eagle sandwich would be delicious.

Of course, I was kidding. But I guess a lot of people didn’t know that, because I got crucified in lots of nasty messages. I was going to write a follow-up column reporting that I had tried the eagle sandwich and it wasn’t very good, but I decided I’d better not do 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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