Support for deer herd reduction on offshore Islands of Maine, U.S.A
Over the past three decades, citizens of Maine in the northeastern United States have experienced increasing blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) abundance and rising incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) overabundance has been considered one cause of the high incidence of tick-borne diseases on offshore islands of New England. Most of Maine's 15 offshore, unbridged island communities have a history of concern about ticks, Lyme disease, and white-tailed deer overabundance, but have been challenged to keep deer numbers down through hunting or culls. This history has led to perennial, often divisive community debates about whether and how to reduce the size of their deer herds. In 2016 we conducted a convenience sample survey of year-round and summer residents of Maine's offshore islands to quantify the level of concern about Lyme disease, and assess the motivations and level of support for deer herd reduction. Among respondents, 84 % agreed Lyme disease was a problem on their island and 61 % supported deer herd reduction. Agreement that Lyme disease was a problem was associated with having acquired tick-borne disease as well as with tick bites without disease. Respondents ranked deer overabundance as a top cause of tick abundance and tick-borne disease and supported deer herd reduction as an approach to reduce the risk of Lyme disease. Other problems associated with deer overabundance (vehicle collisions, damage to landscaping, and damage to forests) also motivated support for deer reduction. Approval of doe permits, an expanded archery season, and sharpshooting as reduction methods was greater than an expanded firearms season. Respondents felt responsibility for tick control fell to the town for the most part, and recognized that multiple factors have contributed to the tick problem in Maine, not just deer.