Sunday, January 24, 2010

Deer

It's almost incomprehensible that the white-tailed deer seems to be disappearing from the Maine North Woods. You think of forest, you think of deer, but according to the hunters, it's almost impossible to find them anymore. Someone calculated that the odds on getting your deer are less than 2% this winter.

People blame the loss of deer wintering yards, the deep snows of recent years and the predations of coyote and black bear - as if Maine's forests never have been cut, there has never been deep snow before, predators are suddenly something new. Gotta have something to blame. Probably the government's the problem.

In Frank Speck's book Penobscot Man, published in 1940 and based on interviews he had with elderly Indians 30 years earlier, those old folks recall how every once in a while deer and caribou would just leave the Penobscot River watershed. A few years later, they would return to their former populations. And that was in the time of serious deforestation, and lots of wolves, and no "deer management programs."

So it could just be a natural cycle, deer somehow communicating among themselves about greener pastures in Canada, or New Hampshire, or even in southern Maine, where of course the population is increasing. I don't doubt their intelligence and ability to do this. The doe I saw several times last week would run across the road and then stop some 50 yards into the woods and look back at me. She was beautiful in her stillness and twitching ears, her lustrous brown coat, her fixed gaze at the biped whose apple trees and hostas and salt licks and flowering bushes were making life so much easier for her. She was thanking me, I think, and if deer can communicate with humans, surely they can spread the word that those places with all the guns should be avoided for a while.

Whatever the reason, a wilderness without deer is unthinkable, and if it takes the reserving of land areas huge enough to allow for natural cycles of migration, or evolution, or adaptation, or whatever the herds are doing these days, then we should do it. Deer don't know how to blame.

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