Deer numbers in northern Maine, where hunting traditions run deep and the bucks grow big, have taken a nose-dive in recent years. According to a story in the Bangor Daily News, Governor Paul Lepage hoped to reverse those trends when he signed a bill aimed at improving winter habitat and putting increased pressure on coyotes, the chief predator of Maine whitetails.

Think you’re not seeing enough deer in your area? Whitetail populations in some areas of northern Maine are estimated at 1-4 deer per square mile. Given the dense forests of this region, the odds of seeing deer — much less tagging a trophy buck — are slim indeed. Maine’s annual whitetail harvest, which peaked at 28,000 animals in the late 1980s, has dropped to under 20,000 recently. Statewide population estimates place the herd at some 250,000 animals.

Wildlife officials feel a loss of critical winter yarding areas is one of the primary reasons for the drop in deer numbers. Lepage’s bill aims to increase protection of these coniferous forests, which offer thermal protection for whitetails in long, often brutal, winters. While there is not a bounty on coyotes in the state, wildlife officials identify problem areas and try to place hunters and trappers in those spots to increase harvests.

Hunters will foot at least some of the bill for the project, with $2 of each $5 “tagging fee” they pay designated for funding. Also, voluntary donations will be accepted with each license purchase.