Maine biologists on Wednesday proposed a 61 percent increase in any-deer permits this fall – to an all-time high of 109,890 – to harvest more does and cull the state’s growing deer herd.

The proposed increase is up from 68,145 last fall and about 30 percent higher than the previous record of 84,745 issued in 2018.

In a virtual meeting by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council, state Deer Biologist Nathan Bieber said the additional any-deer permits are needed to reach the state’s doe-harvest goal of 13,000 and reduce the white-tailed deer population, particularly in southern Maine.

Any-deer permits allow hunters to harvest either a male or female. State biologists believe culling the does is the most effective way to thin the deer herd.

Last year, Bieber said, the doe-harvest objective was 7,966 and hunters only took 6,200. In fact, only once in the past 10 years has the fall hunt met the doe-harvest goal – in 2018 when 9,659 does were taken, surpassing the state’s objective of 8,959.

Wildlife Division Director Nate Webb said the doe harvest that year was aided by near-perfect hunting conditions, with early snow and cool temperatures.

The bump in permits in 2018 was aimed at addressing health concerns about tick-borne diseases in southern and central Maine that were outlined in the state’s big-game management plan. The plan was updated that year with extensive input from the public.

The deer herd in southern Maine still needs to be culled, Bieber said Wednesday. State biologists now estimate the statewide deer population at close to 300,000 – up from an estimated 230,000 to 250,000 last year.

The proposed any-deer permits this year would be issued mostly in what Bieber calls the white-tailed deer “breadbasket of the state” – southern and central Maine.

“We’re increasing the any-deer permits for two reasons,” Webb said. “First the under-harvested does last year did not meet our harvest goal, so we have to issue far more permits. That, coupled with the very mild winter we had last winter resulted in a higher than typical over-winter survival of deer. Those two factors have led to the increase in any-deer permits.”

IFW Advisory Council member Larry Farrington of Greenville Junction asked why the state doesn’t go to an any-sex hunt for all hunters, which is used in other states that struggle with an abundant deer population.

Bieber said if the additional any-deer permits do not achieve the state’s doe-harvest goal this fall, other methods of thinning the herd will be considered, such as allowing an either-sex hunt in certain parts of Maine.

“At this point, I think it would be hard to take a step back from that once you go in that direction,” Bieber said.

Also on Wednesday, IFW approved an 11-percent jump in moose permits to 3,135. Biologists had recommended that number in late March.

The additional moose permits for the fall hunt – approved unanimously by the IFW Advisory Council – will go to hunters in far northern Maine, where state biologists say the moose population looks robust. In that region, winter mortality of moose calves in the state’s radio-collar study was just 18 percent this past winter, the lowest in the seven years of the study, Webb said.

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