Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Anticipated Kroll deer report released

Madison — Wisconsin’s three-man “deer trustee team” has come up with 62 ideas they believe will improve the state’s deer program, but they note that hunter expectations still may rank as the overriding factor in the hunting public’s happiness with DNR deer herd management – no matter how many of those 62 ideas eventually are put in play.

On page 82 of the trustees’ final report, they state, in part, “Ideally, differences between what is needed for proper management … and what is wanted by hunters can be worked out with a healthy communication network, and with some compromises. Flexibility and successful outreach on the part of the wildlife agency can go a long way to prevent or resolve some of these conflicts; however, unrealistic expectations on the part of hunters is also a big part of this problem. Hunters tend to rate their hunting experiences not on what they kill, but on what they see. They often want to see more deer than what the land can sustain.”

UW-Madison researcher and former DNR deer researcher Tim Van Deelen agreed with the assessment.

“I congratulate the trustee (Dr. James Kroll) and committee members (Drs. Gary Alt and Dave Guynn Jr.), Van Deelen said. “This needed to be said.”
(See Commentary on Page 2 for more from Van Deelen on the report).

Final report

In the final report, Kroll, Alt, and Guynn offered 62 suggestions in 10 categories: population management (six); hunting regulations, seasons, and bag limits (13); predation (five); CWD (10); harvest data (four); habitat (seven); people (five); research (nine); Conservation Congress (one); and DNR personnel (two).

Their primary suggestion is for the DNR to create a deer management assistance program. Part of the DMAP effort would get DNR personnel to place “boots on the ground” while working with private landowners, ag groups, and county, state, and national forest officials, according to Kroll.

He said that could be done without hiring more personnel because another suggestion – doing away with over-winter goals and population estimates by scrapping the Sex-Age-Kill formula at individual deer unit levels – would mean local wildlife biologists, technicians, and limited-term employees could leave their computers and get outside.

“The first thing I would do is install a DMAP program, preferably starting in the CWD area in southern Wisconsin,” Kroll said.

“You wouldn’t need more manpower – not initially. You have more biologists in the field than we do in Texas.”

Kroll anticipates there being little DMAP demand early on because it will take some time for landowners to learn just what DMAP is and that they may participate in the program. He said the second most important move would be to reduce the importance or use of the SAK model.

The final report suggests the state forego the idea of setting over-winter goals and antlerless quotas on unit levels, although SAK would still be used on a regional and statewide basis. In SAK’s place would be a system in which wildlife managers, with input from local hunters, decide if they want to “increase, decrease, or maintain” the local deer herd at a particular level, based on indices that could include crop damage, forest regeneration, vehicle/deer collisions, and more.

The third thing Kroll said the DNR should do right away is go to “passive management” in any CWD area. That would mean monitoring the deer herd for prevalence and identifying “break-out” areas. If a break-out is discovered, the DNR would then react with an “intense response” that would include extensive monitoring and the creation of a local CWD committee made up of local wildlife biologists and citizens.

That partially describes what the DNR has done in the Shell Lake area after the most recent CWD-positive deer was found there. Kroll said the DNR should have started shooting and testing deer right away, instead of waiting for the fall hunting seasons.

“There was some proper response in Shell Lake and also some improper, but there was more proper than improper,” he said. “You have to assess how big of a problem it is first, and you have to involve some people in that.”

Kroll’s fourth and fifth most important steps would be tied to research and habitat. On the research side, he’d like to see the DNR set up “proactive” projects instead of “reactive” studies. He noted that the DNR is now entering its second year of a buck mortality/fawn survival study, but said it began as a reaction to hunters’ insistence that predators were killing more deer than allowed for by the DNR. Kroll said the DNR should have conducted that study years ago, and should’ve had that information on hand.

On the habitat front, Kroll noted that Wisconsin’s forests are maturing in many areas, and that more must be done to convert mature forests to younger forests so that the same land base can support more critters overall, not just deer.

“Overall, there are some very good things in (the final report) to implement,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “I like this idea of going to a three- to five-year cycle in terms of setting goals for units. It has been a rat race every year to come up with numbers, and I think people get ‘meeting fatigue’ and hunters then don’t show up for meetings.”

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said a number of DNR wildlife personnel are reviewing the final report. She said that will take some time.

“While changes won’t be immediate, my staff has already rolled up their sleeves and started their review, and are planning for how the public will be involved in the next steps,” Stepp said.

The final report touches on crossbow use and deer baiting and feeding. Since the report has come out, some corners have hinted that Kroll would like to see the state allow crossbow use during the regular archery season, along with a ban on baiting and feeding. Kroll said that’s not necessarily the case.

“We didn’t make a recommendation on crossbows for a reason,” Kroll said, adding that those decisions have to be worked out by archers and gun hunters.

“But CWD is probably going to remove the whole baiting discussion anyway. You’re not going to be able to bait or feed. These are very emotional and polarizing issues that can slow down the issue of getting this thing turned around.”

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