‘Outsiders’ to review state’s SAK formula

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

Portage, Wis. — Two Natural Resources Board members told a DNR
Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) Audit Committee that the agency should find
someone outside the DNR to review the SAK.

“I think the DNR should find an independent contractor so that
there are no questions about DNR influence over the contractor,”
said NRB member Christine Thomas, of Plover.

Thomas and NRB member Herb Behnke, of Shawano, attended the June
29 SAK meeting in Portage. Earlier this year, the NRB ordered the
DNR to conduct an SAK audit.

“The board was responding to requests from the public to verify
the process,” Behnke said. “There are a lot of disbelievers out
there, and we want people to accept the formula that is used for
estimating the state’s deer population.”

In selecting a person, or persons, to conduct the audit, Thomas
said, “This person should answer the question of, ‘Does our formula
give us an accurate estimate of the deer herd?’ As a hunter and
board member, I want hunters to know the numbers we are basing our
management recommendations on are accurate. The starting point is
believing the numbers we tell you are correct.”

The SAK committee is composed of state deer hunting groups, the
Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Bow Hunters, Wisconsin Farm
Bureau, The Nature Conservancy, UW-Madison Department of Wildlife
Ecology, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
(GLIFWC), and others. The committee is advising the DNR on the
independent scientific review of the SAK formula. Members discussed
what the audit should include and who should be selected to perform
it.

DNR deer ecologist Keith Warnke said the audit is expected to
lead to a better understanding of the accuracy and precision of the
current deer population-monitoring system and the development of
procedures to increase the accuracy and precision of population
estimates. This information is needed to increase the public’s
confidence in the DNR’s deer program and willingness to harvest the
number of antlerless deer required to maintain populations at goal
levels. The DNR believes maintaining deer populations closer to
goal levels will reduce the negative social and ecological
consequences of over-abundant deer populations while maintaining
opportunities for harvest and wildlife viewing.

Jonathan Gilbert, of GLIFWC, told Thomas that accuracy and
precision are two different things, and the challenge is that the
audit may be beyond the two-year study the DNR has outlined.

Tim Van Deelen, of the UW-Madison Department of Wildlife
Ecology, gave examples of statistical concepts of precision and
accuracy.

Van Deelen said the draft of the evaluation of SAK and alternate
models raised unrealistic expectations about what an audit is going
to determine about SAK.

“In a mathematically or statistical sense, accuracy is a synonym
for bias,” Van Deelen said. “The most straight-forward way to
quantify bias is to compare an estimate to the actual value of the
population value being estimated. Our problem is that we will not
have actual values associated with SAK outputs, or SAK inputs to
compare to.”

So, rather than directly measure the accuracy of SAK inputs and
outputs, the best the committee can hope for is something that
infers the potential for bias in SAK, Van Deelen said.

“I think one of the biggest benefits would be looking to the
audit for a prioritized list of information needs to make the SAK
more reliable,” Van Deelen said. “Future deer management research
could then use the list to prioritize project needs and research
spending.”

Alma farmer Mark Knoll, Conservation Congress co-chairman of the
Big Game Study Committee, asked what the committee would get out of
it. It could be that DNR estimates have been accurate for 50 years,
but if hunters do not see deer in front of them the SAK is not
correct, he said.

DNR wildlife management director Tom Hauge said he thought the
audit could buy the DNR four or five years of peace.

“It’s not just rank and file hunters, but the Conservation
Congress, Natural Resources Board, and others who speak to hunters
that should benefit,” Hauge said. “They should be sure of the
dollars spent to give you the best estimates to guide our
decisions. But, I agree that it is what hunters see on the stump
that is most important.”

The committee asked to have Bob Holzmann, of UW-Stevens Point,
added to the committee so that it might better understand public
perception.

The committee discussed a list of potential names of academic
people to conduct the audit. All are outside Wisconsin and work for
organizations such as Pennsylvania State University, Michigan State
University, North Carolina State University, Southern Illinois
University, Colorado State University, the University of Georgia,
the Missouri Conservation Department, and the DNRs of Minnesota and
Michigan. The committee agreed it would be wise to hire two or
three people, with backgrounds in deer population ecology,
biometrics, and some agency experience, plus be a deer hunter.

Greg Kazmierski, of the Wisconsin Deer Hunters Coalition was
concerned about allowing the DNR to select people to conduct the
audit. He will serve on a sub-committee along with Van Deelen,
George Meyer of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and Warnke to
select potential auditors. Those auditors will be asked to meet
with the SAK committee during The Wildlife Society national
meetings in Madison in September.

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