July 18, 2019

Orono to consider proposal to thin Marsh Island deer herd

ORONO – How to deal with deer overpopulation on Marsh Island has been a controversial issue for more than 10 years in area towns, but now the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has come up with a suggestion.

In a recent letter to Town Manager Cathy Conlow, DIF&W regional wildlife biologist Marc Caron proposes to pursue new rules to open Marsh Island to archery-only deer hunting and add the island to the existing archery area, which includes portions of both Old Town and Orono.

“The solution [Caron] offers is a pretty good one,” Conlow said.

DIF&W classifies the island as a wildlife management area where hunting is prohibited, but the department’s commissioner has the authority to change that rule.

The intent of the expanded archery area is to allow hunting in areas that are not open to firearms hunting because of municipal firearms discharge ordinances. All of the areas are near homes and are interspersed with small woodlots, according to the DIF&W Web site.

Before any final decisions are made, she said, the Orono council will hold a public hearing on the issue at its Feb. 12 meeting.

There has been question over the last couple of years whether it would be possible to control the deer herd in some way if the University of Maine, the largest landowner on Marsh Island, decided not to participate.

UM has decided not to jump on board with the plan, and Caron has considered that in his proposal.

“Our decision at this point is that we would not open university land to a hunt, selectively managed or controlled hunt,” UM Public Safety Director Noel March said Wednesday.

March headed the UM committee that explored the deer population and control issue.

“As much as there does appear to be certainly a legitimate need to address the deer herd population on Marsh Island, we have concerns to safety of those who use university forests and land, hiking trails, and open fields,” March said. “But we will agree to cooperate with abutting landowners in the event that a deer hunt on their property requires them to come onto university land to retrieve a deer or otherwise.”

UM’s decision not to participate makes it difficult to hunt on the Orono side, but Conlow said Caron’s proposal still offers some solution to the problem.

“It’s hard to hunt Orono lands, but it will still enable Old Town to deal with the problem over there,” Conlow said.

Old Town councilors previously voted to move forward with a controlled hunt as long as safety precautions are taken.

“As long as none of the provisions change, I don’t see any reason to not move forward with the proposal of inland fisheries,” Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle said Thursday.

Old Town councilors also have received a copy of the letter to review.

Caron is seeking a response from Orono officials next month in order to begin steps toward the rule-making process.

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