Hunters to have input on DNR’s deer plan

Springfield — DNR will hold a series of public meetings in coming months to allow hunters their say on the future of the state’s deer herd.

Details of those meetings are still being worked out, but DNR Director Marc Miller said the agency’s wildlife staff has been directed to schedule a series of statewide sessions in short order.

The plan is to have the deer program’s goals defined prior to the Illinois Conservation Congress in September.

“We believe people should have a say,” Miller said. “We want hunters and citizens to bring ideas to these meetings and we want them to help us define what our goals should be, and get their thoughts on how things are going.”

It’s a stark contrast to the 2008 Joint Task Force on Deer Population Control, which was formed under Acting DNR Director Sam Flood and consisted of a cross-section of professionals – few of whom were deer hunters. 

The Task Force was created by a Joint Resolution of the 95th General Assembly with the mission “to examine and make recommendations on ways to manage the Illinois deer population.” The task force met four times between April and October of 2008, and conducted a series of six public meetings around the state to seek public comment about changes to the deer program that were being considered.

Miller was adamant that he doesn’t want another task force.

“The goal set by that task force was to reduce the state’s deer population by 14 percent, and that has been accomplished,” he said. “Now what we want to do is for the people to tell us what they want to see. Should the herd increase or decrease? We want to talk about seasons, and what they should look like.”

The public meetings are actually a step that DNR has been waiting to take since the agency announced last March that it was examining its deer management program “to determine if modifications are needed to hunting seasons and regulations.” At that time, the agency was preparing to follow up on a host of recommendations made by the 2008 task force, including the statewide 14 percent reduction in the deer herd.

Also open for modification was the structure of the deer hunting seasons and the sharpshooting program, used each winter to reduce deer densities in known chronic wasting disease “hot spots” in northern Illinois counties. While the sharpshooting program and CWD testing has been effective, “budget reductions over the past decade is compelling the department to explore alternative means of reducing deer herd density in CWD counties,” DNR announced last March. Among the moves being considered were changes in hunting programs, assisting local landowning agencies in their own deer herd reduction programs and working with local hunters to increase their deer harvest on private lands.

Miller admitted that DNR hadn’t planned on taking an entire year to hold public meetings and move on the deer program. Mass retirements last spring put plans on the back burner.

“At the end of May, we lost so many people with the retirements,” he said. “And the work doesn’t stop. In recent months, we’ve done some hiring in wildlife, and we need people to have these kinds of meetings.”

Miller said the deer meetings “will be a real conversation between deer hunters and DNR.”

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