DNR wants public input in decisions

Eagle River, Wis. — Two of the DNR’s lead “wildlifers” recently looked ahead to the wolf season and potential changes in the deer world and said they want to work with state sportsmen on both fronts.

After 10 years away from the DNR, Kevin Wallenfang returned in December as the agency’s deer, bear, and elk ecologist – right in the midst of the “deer czar” effort. He said he isn’t intimidated by any changes that might be on the horizon in the deer world.

Kurt Thiede is about two years into his job as the DNR’s Bureau of Lands administrator. He, too, has been heavily involved in deer work, but most recently spent time setting up the new timber wolf season.

Both men addressed those topics with members of the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association at the group’s annual conference at Trees For Tomorrow on July 28.

Wallenfang on deer

Although some might wonder why he’d want the job, Wallenfang, said this is an exciting time in deer management.

Wallenfang chases deer, turkeys, muskies, and most other game and fish species when time allows, but now is immersed in changes to the deer program, even though Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Little Rice, has asked the DNR secretary to replace her entire deer team.

Looking back, Wallenfang points out that in 1991 hunters shot 315,846 deer and many hunters viewed that as a great season. In 2010, hunters shot 336,871 deer and said hunting was “horrible.” Why the change?

Wallenfang points to many changes since the 1990s that have liberalized deer hunting – new rules, the muzzleloader season, metro deer units, allowing muzzleloader hunters to shoot bucks, and more.

Bottom line? Hunters want to see deer.

Some of the reasons that hunters aren’t seeing “enough” deer? Lower deer numbers in some areas (mostly north-central counties), rural housing development, changes in hunting technology and techniques, more archery deer hunters in the woods (more archers age 65 and older are now buying licenses), and baiting and feeding all could cause people to see fewer deer then they’d like.

“We have a lot of hunters who were in the woods in the late 1990s and early 2000s who saw lots of deer. Harvests back then were setting new records each year. It will be awfully difficult for us to satisfy those hunters today,” Wallenfang said.

Deer distribution is not even. A helicopter survey of Richland County showed more than 100 deer in one square mile, but no deer in another square mile.

Wallenfang said the DNR is looking for more ways to get people involved in deer research projects and management. He believes there will be a lot more opportunities, giving hunters first-hand experience with the research that is behind the regulations.

One of Wallenfang’s goals is putting fun back in hunting. He realizes that the opportunity to make changes is now.

Hunters who want more “regular” seasons will see that again this fall.

“One of the things I’ve been thinking is that we can repackage our programs so people will want to participate in them. ‘Bonus buck’ is one of those,” Wallenfang said. “In the CWD units, earn-a-buck is gone, but bonus buck provides hunters a bonus and it has received positive feedback.”

The DNR is no longer issuing unlimited tags in an attempt to go back to more traditional seasons.

Shell Lake stands as one example that changes are being made in the DNR’s approach to CWD. Wallenfang said there is  no talk of sharpshooters or eradication in Washburn County. He said the DNR has learned from the past.

Concerning the deer trustees’ report, Wallenfang said the report and recommendations bring excitement because James Kroll, Gary Alt, and David Guynn Jr. are making people think about deer management in a different way.

“The report has offered up ideas that a lot of deer managers in Wisconsin have asked for for a long time,” Wallenfang said.

Some of the recommendations will take years to implement, and there are open questions that Kroll, Alt, and Guynn want hunters to answer, such as the use of crossbows during archery season, and baiting and feeding.

Wallenfang said that the public/private land tag issue is controversial. Public lands get hit hard during the season, especially during antlerless seasons. And, if a landowner shoots a deer or two on his land, hunting often ends on that parcel and it becomes a refuge for the remainder of the season.

Wallenfang said he’s looking forward to bringing change to the state’s deer program.

Thiede on the wolf season

Thiede said it’s a historic time in Wisconsin as the gray wolf is now a game species, having been removed from the endangered species list Jan. 27.

“I hope that changing wolves to a game animal changes the idea that they are vermin,” Thiede said. “As a game animal they will have more value.”

The wolf season law was signed by the governor April 2. On July 17, the Natural Resources Board approved the emergency rule that will allow the first season to take place. Applications – at a cost of $10 – became available Aug. 1. The deadline is Aug. 31. Licenses are $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents.

This year licenses will be issued in a random draw because no one will have preference. In the future, half of the tags will be issued to those with preference points, the other half by random draw.

“If you want to be in the drawing, you want to be sure that you are in this first year,” Thiede said.

The season dates are Oct. 15 until the end of February.

“Our objective is to follow Act 169 and provide hunting and trapping opportunities. Our goal is to reduce the wolf population and start to turn it back toward the 350-animal goal,” Thiede said. “We’ll learn and adapt from this first year.”

Thiede believes that a harvest of 23 to 29 percent of the minimum count is needed to cause a decline in the population. The DNR originally proposed a harvest of 142 to 233 wolves, and settled on a quota of 201 wolves, or about 24 percent of the minimum count. This is subject to a tribal harvest declaration.

“The reality is that it is not going to be easy to harvest a wolf,” Thiede said.

Hunters who do must register the carcass within five days of the end of month of kill and provide tissue samples for use in research.

Trappers may use cable restraints after Dec. 1. Foot-hold traps up to 7 inches may be used through Nov. 30. After that date, trappers may go to larger traps since most bears should be hibernating at that point.

Hunting hours will be the same as small game or deer  through the nine-day gun deer season. Then night hunting is allowed.

Baiting rules will be the same as bear baiting through bear season, and then the same as deer hunting through deer season.

The damage program will be funded by application and license sales. Rather than paying out immediately, payments won’t take place until after Dec. 31 so the DNR will know how much money has come in from license and application sales. If receipts don’t cover all verified damages, farmers’ losses will be pro-rated.

The DNR will send a proposed permanent rule order to the Natural Resources Board in December, and update it in 2013 as season results come in.

The DNR will take a wolf plan update to the NRB this fall.

Wolf numbers have been controversial. Thiede said the DNR counted a minimum of 815 to 880 wolves this past winter. Federal delisting was possible when there were 100 wolves combined in

Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The U.P.’s current wolf count is similar to Wisconsin’s.

Most of the core range is occupied. Verified losses of farm animals was relatively low until 2004, when losses increased substantially, along with wolf numbers.

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