DEC now surveying Central N.Y. hunters

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Syracuse, N.Y. – DEC is continuing to gauge hunter sentiment on
Quality Deer Management-like regulations for several central New
York Wildlife Management Units.

This time, the department has contracted with Cornell
University’s Human Dimension Research Unit to take a random
telephone poll of 400 deer hunters to gather their opinions on
antler restrictions and a one-buck restriction.

The move comes on the heels of a spirited debate on a proposal
by a group called Central New York Whitetails, which earlier this
year touted a plan for WMUs 7H, 7J and 7F calling for a one-buck
limit and an antlers-outside-the-ear tips rack restriction.

The proposal never went forward to DEC, and sportsmen were
widely spilt on the plan.

DEC Region 7 wildlife biologist David Riehlman says while
Central NY Whitetails took a poll on its Web site that indicated
strong support of the plan, the meetings showed more of a split and
stronger opposition to antler restrictions and a one-buck
regulation.

“Those (Web site poll and the sportsmen’s meetings) were prone
to bias; it appeared the opposition forces mobilized the troops for
the two meetings,” Riehlman said.

As a result, DEC has asked Cornell to conduct a random survey of
400 hunters; calls began last month and results are expected to be
available by the end of the year.

In a letter to Central New York deer hunters who may receive a
call for the survey, Riehlman said DEC is not currently advocating
any changes, “but would be willing to consider experimental changes
to deer hunting regulations if hunters broadly embrace them.”

Indication to this point is that hunters in that region have not
widely expressed an interest in moving to the antler restrictions
and a one-buck regulation. The Onondaga Federation of Sportsmen’s
Club passed a resolution in opposition to both the one-buck
proposal and “any new proposal that would restrict the harvesting
of bucks in New York State based on the size of the deer’s
antlers.”

Sportsmen’s federation support of similar antler restriction
proposals led to the implementation of a three-points-a-side
regulation in a pair of WMUs in both Ulster and Sullivan counties.
Riehlman said he was “hesitant to comment” on why the federation
vote in Onondaga County wasn’t enough to shelve the proposal, but
added that he wasn’t sure “how well-balanced the input was” in the
areas where antler restrictions were implemented.

He said DEC is being criticized by sportsmen on both sides of
the debate.

“We get it from both ends,” he said. “Some sportsmen are saying,
‘Why are you burying your head in the sand? You know this is the
way to go.’ Others are saying, ‘Why are you cramming this down our
throats?’”

In the pre-survey letter to hunters, Riehlman said DEC
“recognizes that an alternative buck harvest standard can be part
of a viable deer management program. Given that New York’s deer
population is healthy and currently does not show signs of
compromised breeding ecology, the DEC does not see a biological
need to alter (that standard).”

Implementing the antler restriction, he added, “would be
primarily a response to interest among sportsmen and a means to
potentially increase hunter satisfaction.”

The phone survey offered DEC the lone opportunity to get data in
its hands by the end of the year in the event any regulation
changes were to be made. “If we saw broad support, we would begin
crafting regulatory changes by the end of the year (for the 2007-08
season),” he said.

What qualifies as broad support may be open to interpretation,
he added. “If there’s a percentage of people strongly opposed, that
will weigh heavily,” he said. “Strong support or opposition carries
a lot of weight. But it’s always a tough call.”

The fact that DEC is taking this additional step has some
opponents of the plan concerned that the question will be asked
until support is seen by DEC to implement the changes.

But Steven Wowelko, who presented an opposition view to the
proposal at one of the two public sessions, said the survey “may be
just a way to validate if there is overwhelming support for the
restriction. DEC keeps assuring us it will not pursue any new
restrictions unless there is ‘overwhelming’ support.”

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