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Wisconsin DNR Wants to Abandon Whitetail Deer Counts Before the 2014 Hunting Season

Posted on October 4, 2013

Chris JenningsAre you ready for no attempt whatsoever to count deer in the state of Wisconsin? That’s exactly what the DNR proposes.

From March 9 through July 20 of this year I spent many full Saturdays, as well as spare time, working on the implementation of the Deer Trustee Report (DTR). The DTR was commissioned by Gov. Scott Walker and completed in late 2012 by a three-person team of researchers lead by Dr. James Kroll of Nacogdoches, Texas. I was a member of the DTR Science and Research Action Team. About a dozen team members, from across the state, and across the board as deer hunters, were tasked with the implementation of a portion of the 62 recommendations of the report.

Passion, dedication, at times contention, and always respect are adjectives that best describe the seven full-day meetings we were allotted to hammer out the details of our team’s portion of the recommendations. We completed our assignments and our recommendations were included, along with those of the three other action teams, in the final report: “Public Proposals to Implement Recommendations from the Deer Trustee Report.”

I am thoroughly disgusted to learn that key, unanimous recommendations of our Science and Research Action Team are being roundly ignored as the DNR moves forward with implementation of its new rules. And, in an insult to all who participated in the DTR process, the current plan is to implement the changes via emergency rule, not through the Conservation Congress and spring hearings as we were promised.

Here are the recommendations that are being disregarded, along with some background on our decision process.

Telephone/Internet  vs. in person deer registration:

As a committee we agreed that mandatory registration of deer at registration stations could be an inconvenience.  We also recognized that the data and physical specimens collected at registration stations is the single most important source of information on Wisconsin’s deer herd.  Telephone/Internet registration would yield no physical specimens. Telephone/Internet registration could also more easily yield false data (why not call in a doe you never bothered to shoot). For these and other reasons, we felt that maintaining the current system of in-person deer registration was worth the effort.

The proposed DNR rule will eliminate deer registration in favor of a Telephone/Internet system.

SAK: The Sex-Age-Kill population model has become a popular target for dissatisfied hunters. As a committee, we explored many other options and determined that, warts and all, SAK is the best available accounting model for deer. We also felt that having no count at all is irresponsible and would not be acceptable to the hunters of this state. We recommended continued use of SAK, combined with a healthy dose of scientifically rigorous citizen input – trail camera surveys, forester input, rural mail carrier surveys – good citizen science projects are currently in the works. Keep SAK, but allow more citizen input to confirm or refute the results and then make adjustments to deer management strategies.

The proposed DNR rule will not only terminate the SAK model of estimating deer numbers, but would completely eliminate all attempts to quantify deer numbers in the state of Wisconsin

Reduce the number of DMU’s:

As a committee, we were tasked with reducing the number of Deer Management Units. We explored the “county option” and ultimately decided that, because of size disparities, disconnection with historic data, and the fact that county lines do not follow roads or water bodies, making them even more confusing than DMUs in the field, county boundaries were not the right fit. Additionally, the  entire idea of DMUs was to follow habitat types. County lines do no such thing. We recommended that if the number of DMUs was to be reduced, similar habitat and deer populations must be taken into account and current DMUs should be aggregated to maintain continuity with historic data

The proposed DNR rule could eliminate current DMU boundaries in favor of county lines.

The final insult was the lie repeated by the DNR throughout the entire process. During our Saturday meetings, as well as during the public mid-point and final meetings, we were promised that the all of the Action Team proposals resulting from the eight-week DTR process would be submitted for approval to the outdoor enthusiasts of Wisconsin, via the 2014 spring hearings, before any potential rule changes would take place. The DNR’s current plan is to force its rule changes through using an emergency rule.

It is bad enough being lied to and having my time and effort wasted and ignored, but what I find most insulting and disturbing is that these proposed DNR rules  will virtually eliminate “science” - any scientifically rigorous figures or evidence - from deer management in the state of Wisconsin. Science and evidence will be replaced by guesses and conjecture. We are being forced to abandon Wisconsin’s scientific legacy, and position as a leader in wildlife management.

I would like to see the Natural Resources Board to slow down this process. Let's carefully consider whether the proposed DNR rules would advance deer management in the state or result in a step backwards.  The DNR works for the citizens of Wisconsin, allow us the input we were promised, and allow the proposed DNR rules to work through spring hearing process. Deer are an important resource in the state of Wisconsin, and our citizens deserve input to deer management changes as sweeping as these.

Thirty-five public meetings are planned statewide in late October, a time when most of us would rather spend free time hunting. Chances are these meetings will be your last opportunity to voice your opinion on the proposed rule changes.

So what do you think? Are you willing to abandon a deer count? Are you willing to abandon science and its role in deer management. Are you content to allow politicians to circumvent the Conservations Congress spring hearing process and deny your voice as a hunter?