Maine Losing Hunters at Rapid Rate
The loss of Maine’s deer herd in the North Woods is expected to accelerate the steady loss of both resident and nonresident hunters in a state once known for its Whitetails.
The truth is that the big woods still has trophy whitetails, but the overall deer population there is greatly diminished, and other states are now more attractive to deer hunters, including Mainers.
I’ve talked recently with avid Maine deer hunters who are going to Pennsylvania, Kansas, South and North Dakota, and even New York to hunt deer this fall. Sales of hunting licenses tell a sad story of decline in rural Maine where hunting and fishing – along with the forest industry – drove the local economy for decades.
It’s too bad that Governor LePage can’t declare a state of economic emergency caused by the loss of deer in the north country. Because that loss has staggered rural towns, people, and businesses.
The sale of hunting licenses peaked in 1981 at 238,476. They averaged 225,779 from 1977-1986, dropped to 217,960 from 1987-1996, and then to 209,583 from 1997-2006. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife sold 205,271 hunting licenses in 2010.
But this data of total license sales doesn’t accurately reflect the decline in hunter numbers, since it includes all the licenses one hunter might purchase.
For example, I might purchase a big game license – giving me the opportunity to hunt all big game animals with a firearms. But I’d also have to purchase a separate license to hunt with a bow. Two licenses, only one hunter.
Gerry Lavigne, DIF&W’s longtime deer biologist until his retirement two years ago, did his own calculation of hunter numbers each year, sorting through the various licenses to count each hunter only once.
Using Lavigne’s calculation, 1981 was again the peak year for sales of hunting licenses, with 197,697. Sales dropped 22 percent to 154,808 in 1997, and stuck there. The average in the following decade was 156,620. Roughly 40,000 hunters were lost and never regained.
Nonresident deer hunters – the cash cows for DIF&W who pay top dollar for Maine hunting licenses – have declined even more sharply – with a devastating impact on guides, sporting camps, rural Maine businesses from motels to restaurants, and the department itself.
The sale of hunting licenses to nonresidents peaked in 1989 at 45,303, dropping to 37,327 in 2006. And then the slide escalated. DIF&W sold just 27,898 nonresident hunting licenses in 2010 – and that’s before the demise of our deer herd got major publicity throughout the country. It’s likely that far less nonresident hunters will be coming to Maine this fall.
The woods will be silent – and so too the cash registers.