Who is ‘the decider’ on the Wisconsin deer management landscape?

In Wisconsin, a 15-year-old whitetail doe tested positive for CWD.

Who’s in charge here?

That’s a question that a deer hunter might ask during the process of setting antlerless deer quotas (a process somewhat similar to making sausage) in Wisconsin in the 2000s.

It used to be that DNR biologists were responsible for quotas. Harvesting antlerless deer, a touchy subject that even caused angst to the late Aldo Leopold when he served on the Wisconsin Conservation Commission, used to be controlled by a scientific formula known as Sex-Age-Kill (SAK), a method considered by other state wildlife agencies to be the “industry standard.”

SAK was based on the in-person registration of each and every deer at local deer registration stations, a practice that began in 1952. The system survived until Gov. Scott Walker took control of the DNR and was convinced by a splinter group of sportsmen that he should hire a “deer czar” from Texas to upend the Wisconsin deer management system from top-down to bottom-up.

Now County Deer Advisory Councils, one in every county representing various interests, were created out of that process. Those CDACS now come up with annual recommendations for the antlerless deer harvest in each  county. CDACs use information provided by the DNR, but they ultimately decide on an antlerless deer quota recommendation that goes to the DNR. The agency reviews the numbers and forwards them, possibly with modifications, to the Natural Resources Board for approval.

So now influencing the numbers are public desires expressed at public CDAC meetings, CDACs, Conservation Congress, DNR, and the NRB. Each body has its “kick at the cat,” but the DNR and the NRB have shown a reticence to change recommendations from CDACs .

The DNR says that CDACs are learning how to “turn the dials” to get the recommendations they feel are appropriate. But the DNR also knows that CDAC members are local and are under pressure and may not want to make controversial recommendations for fear of alienating their neighbors.

They should also fairly weigh impact of deer on forests and traffic, as well as hunting and tourism. And, though local people comprise these CDACs, people who hunt the area could often be from 200 or more miles away and won’t attend local meetings.

Who’s in control? It’s debatable. But it’s a fact that if you don’t attend local meetings, you’re missing your best opportunity for input.

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