Hunter access survey shows work is needed

Columbus – A small sample of southeast and southwest Ohio
farmers said they continue to experience problems related to deer
damage, but the majority of those same farmers said they weren’t
interested in a formal matchmaking program to link them with
hunters.

In coordination with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the DNR
Division of Wildlife earlier this year mailed surveys to 2,369
bureau members to gauge their interest in such a program.

Of those surveys, 344 were returned with less than a third of
them (37 percent) indicating they would be interested in a
state-run matchmaking program. The surveys were sent to Farm Bureau
members in Tuscarawas, Brown, and Harrison counties.

The overriding goal of the survey and a potential matchmaking
program is to help farmers deal with deer damage while also
providing greater private land access to hunters. The survey was an
attempt to gauge interest in such a program by focusing on a small
area of the state where deer damage complaints are greatest.

What can be gleaned from the survey information is subject to
interpretation.

“I think (the low response) is because farmers are very
independent minded and they’re not interested in participating in
state government program,” said Chris Henney, the Farm Bureau’s
director of policy development. “I think if we followed up with
some of those people, though most of them aren’t interested in an
access program, I think most of them still have deer damage.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation represents more than 230,000
farm families in the state, Henney said.

The Farm Bureau is on record as saying it would like to see the
state’s deer herd reduced significantly, two years ago citing its
preference as around 250,000. At the start of this deer hunting
season, the herd stood at about 750,000.

“Our overriding goal is that the deer herd needs to be
reduced,”_Henney said. “Everybody involved needs to step up the
plate. Farmers have to allow access to their property to hunters.
The Division of Wildlife needs to recognize deer damage complaints
and make sure they issue adequate permits.”

Very few landowners surveyed said they were opposed to hunting,
and the majority said they already allow some hunting, said Dave
Risley, the Division of Wildlife’s administrator for management and
research.

“A_lot of the landowners felt they have adequate hunting
pressure to control their problem,” said Risley. “But they still
said the (crop) damage level is relatively high.

“My interpretation of that is that we really need to educate
landowners to what it takes to manage deer on their property,” he
said.

The Division of Wildlife received 1,677 deer damage complaints
from farmers last year, which was less than the 2,214 logged in
2006, according to a report on the 2007-2008 deer seasons. But as
recently as 2001, annual complaints were typically below 1,000.

Those surveyed who said they were amenable to hunter access were
asked if they would impose any restrictions, such as doe harvest
only or requiring hunters to earn a buck by first killing a doe. Of
the respondents, 39 percent said they would not impose any harvest
restriction.

Some of those surveyed suggested that the state expand bag
limits and lengthen the deer season, but Risley doesn’t believe
that is a viable solution, either.

“Deer hunting alone is not the answer,”_he said. “It’s deer
killing and there has to be an emphasis on does. I don’t want to
see us as an agency require that, but a landowner can.”

Bag limits, particularly in those areas where the surveys went,
are already pushing the outer limits, Risley said.

“If you hunt both gun and bow, you can kill six deer in Zone C,
which is where most of these counties are,”_he said. “But, when we
go back and do our hunting analysis, very few people kill three
deer and even fewer kill more than three.”

Risley also noted that there are 121 days for hunting from the
bow season opener until its close in February.

“September to February is a long time,”_he said. “So, it’s going
to be tough,” to extend the season.

Maybe the biggest obstacle to overcome, according to the survey,
is building a better relationship between the hunting and farming
public. Thirty percent of survey respondents said they simply don’t
want people on their land.

“Our farmers want to have good relationships with hunters,”_said
Henney. “The problem is, some of them have been burned in the past
by people trespassing or someone they gave (hunting) permission to
bringing a half dozen buddies along … So, hunters have a lot to
overcome because of the misdeeds of a few.”

The survey showed that of those who would accept hunter access,
87 percent said they would first prefer to meet the prospective
hunter face to face.

“Farmers don’t want a list out there saying John Doe allows deer
hunters on his property and then 900 people come and knock on their
door,” said Risley.

However, all hope is not lost for developing some type of
matchmaking service that would give landowners control over the
hunter or hunters they choose to participate.

“I think we can still learn something and still move forward on
this,”_Risley said. “The key comes to how do we restrict the
intrusion upon farmers vs. providing opportunity as a public
agency.

“It’s all about relationships that increase access,” Risley
said. “It’s difficult on a statewide level with 400,000 license
buyers and 80,000 farmers to work out something to build
relationships on that scale. So, that’s why I think we came up with
this matchmaker idea. That’s where I think some of the local
conservation clubs can make a difference to build
relationships.”

Some type of access program that allows landowners the ability
to screen hunters is key, said Henney

“Our farmers aren’t against hunting,” Henney said. “They would
just prefer it handled in a different manner.”

The thought right now is that survey results were more favorable
in Tuscarawas County where it is hoped some type of matchmaking
program can be introduced for next year’s season.

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