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Maine Lawmakers Consider Expanding Coyote Trapping
02/19/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Coyote trapping, as a way of replenishing the deer herd, would be expanded in Maine, under a bill before the state Legislature. Right now, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife pays trappers, hunters and houndsmen to kill a limited number of coyotes in some of the state's most remote and vulnerable wintering habitats for deer. But as Jay Field reports, a new measure, debated at a public hearing today in Augusta, would create a four-month, open season on coyote trapping.

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Robert Saucier, the bill's sponsor, is a Democrat representing House District 5 in Presque Isle. He's got a long drive down to Augusta.

And on one of those trips, back in November, Saucier stopped to gas up off the interstate in the small town of Oakfield, where he met an out-of-state hunter "who was dressed in hunter orange," Saucier recalled. "And I asked him how the deer hunting was going. He said he had been coming to Aroostook County for the past 20 years and had always been able to get a deer."

But not during the past six to eight years, the hunter told Saucier. "He had been skunked and had decided he was all done coming to Aroostook County because there weren't any deer left because the coyotes have got 'em all," Saucier said.

The white-tailed deer population in the county began to decline around 25 years ago. The major culprits: according to wildlife biologists, a spruce budworm epidemic that decimated the forested areas where the deer go to ride out the region's harsh winters. And predators.

"We have a real issue in Aroostook County. We are being overrun by coyotes," Saucier told colleagues. "Extending the trapping season would prevent the fawns from being taken in the early spring."

Saucier's bill proposes a four-month, open coyote trapping season, from mid-October to mid-February. Maine already has night hunting for coyote from December to August. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife also runs a program to kill a limited number of coyotes annually in some of the county's more remote and vulnerable deer yards. Hunters, trappers and houndsmen who participate get paid for gas and their time, not a set price for each coyote they kill.

Les Flanders, who lives in Lincoln Plantation, opposes expanding trapping to help replenish deer, in part, becuase he says the state's existing coyote control efforts aren't working.

"And I'll call it a bounty system," he said. "The money that being paid out so far hasn't increased the kill of coyote. It's done nothing to decrease the herd in excess of what is already being done. It's just a total waste of funds."

Meantime, says Flanders, who has hunted coyote extensively, the deer yards where he lives, in western Maine, have all but disappeared.

"Without deer wintering area, they don't have a chance to survive. And you can kill all the coyote you want," Flanders said. "The deer still aren't going to survive if they don't have a place to spend the winter, and they don't have some shelter and they don't have some food."

Long-term restoration efforts in Maine have also focused on rebuilding this wintering habitat. Opposition at Tuesday 's public hearing before the Inland Fish and Wildlife Committee also came from farmers.

"My name is Steve Meyerhans. I live in Fairfield and I've been growing apples in Somerset County and Kennebec County for 39 years." Myerhans says coyotes play a key role in maintaining the health of his orchard. "The coyotes come to my orchard. They feed mostly on apples and mice and they will control the mouse population."

Mice, you see, do serious damage to Meyerhans apples. And if the coyotes go away, Meyerhans worries he will be forced spread Zincphosphide, a toxic mouse poison, on his orchard.


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