‘Deer report’ volunteers recommend changes

Stevens Point, Wis. — At their final public meeting July 20, the four citizen action teams, which had been meeting every month since early March in an attempt to address the Deer Trustee Report, announced several changes they’re recommending for improving Wisconsin’s deer-management program: keeping SAK, banning baiting and feeding, more CWD testing, and bonus buck tags.

During the past four months, the 52 volunteers have reviewed the recommendations made by the deer trustee team that included Dr. James Kroll, Dr. Gary Alt, and Dr. Dave Guynn Jr. Kroll was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker nearly two years ago to study the state’s deer-management policies. Kroll brought on Alt and Guynn.

“They (volunteers) have discussed research materials and background data to build the framework for their implementation proposals,” said Eric Lobner, Deer Trustee Report implementation coordinator with the DNR. “They’ve worked very hard to incorporate multiple viewpoints while reviewing the results of the April DTR survey to pull together proposals on how the department should put the report’s 62 recommendations into action.”

The four teams were: DMAP (deer management assistance program), Herd Health/CWD, Regulations and Season Structure, and Science and Research. Their common goals included:

  • Increasing dialogue and involvement between the DNR, hunters, and landowners;
  • Enhancing hunting, management, and research;
  • Managing the herd’s health and its affect on the landscape;
  • Slowing CWD spread, and;
  • Putting the fun back in hunting by simplifying rules and season structures.

Population management

Estimation of deer numbers has been an area of concern and controversy during the past several years, with many hunters saying they’re seeing fewer deer. This has led to calls for scrapping the SAK (sex-age-kill) population accounting model, which is the backbone of the state’s population estimation system. It considers harvest numbers, fawn-to-doe ratios, percentage of yearling bucks, sex ratios, and unit-specific buck recovery rates.

Kroll, Alt, and Guynn want to scrap SAK, but the Science and Research Action Team sees SAK as one of several things to consider in making deer-management decisions and recommendations.

The team recommends the DNR keep SAK, but additional “metrics” be considered when estimating deer numbers. These include population trends and herd mortality rates, deer health and habitat status, the impact of deer on other natural resources, costs and benefits of deer to society, hunter perceptions, selectivity and interest, as well as predation rates, the effectiveness of baiting, and opening-day weather.

Members favor expanding the ongoing radio telemetry study in east-central and northwest Wisconsin to other parts of the state, including the fawn and buck mortality studies focusing on the impacts of predators on the herd. They also propose beginning a long-term wildlife-monitoring project using trail cameras to monitor predators and deer recruitment rates, including an estimation of buck densities and age structures.

The Regulations and Season Structure Team is proposing the DNR hold county meetings with the Conservation Congress to get local perspectives and fine-tune local quota numbers.

Deer units

Although several reviews have recommended reducing the number of deer units, the Regulations and Season Structure Team has proposed leaving the unit boundaries as they currently exist, but also suggests the creation of five hunting zones: three farmland zones, one of which would include the current CWD Zone, and separate Northern Forest and Central Forest zones.

The team proposes that antlerless quotas in the Central Forest and Northern Forest zones continue as they are, while the farmland regions adopt the DTR recommendation to simplify the process by setting antlerless harvest goals, regulations, and permit quotas on a 3- to 5-year cycles.

The Science and Research Action Team looked at combining units with similar habitat, deer densities, and regulatory structures. The team believes it’s important to retain historical and future data on a finer unit scale.

Meanwhile, the Health Team is proposing to move away from current unit boundaries and suggests using county boundaries that already are used to identify existing baiting and feeding bans.

Regulations/bag limits

The Regulations and Season Structure Team is recommending the DNR eliminate the need for different antlerless tags and create one generic Farmland Zone antlerless tag. It also recommends that gun and bow deer license buyers be issued a buck tag that’s valid statewide, along with one generic Farmland Zone antlerless tag. All additional antlerless tags would cost $7.

In farmland zones where deer populations have been over goal for years, they’ve proposed additional antlerless bonus tags to provide ample opportunity for those looking to shoot more deer.

As an incentive to shoot antlerless deer, the team is recommending a bonus buck policy, which would allow hunters who shoot and register two or more antlerless deer to harvest an additional buck, with a maximum of three bucks per hunter. The team also proposes that revenue from the sale of antlerless tags be used to support the wildlife damage program, which aids those whose crops are damaged by deer.

Two teams – Herd Health/CWD and Regulations and Season Structure – support the concept of an October antlerless season, and believe it should be available as a statewide management tool. However, they believe it should be used only where needed for proper population management, as part of a disease response plan, and in locations with high levels of crop damage and deer-car collisions.

Both teams also are recommending a baiting and feeding ban due to concerns about the role these practices play in changing deer behavior, the privatization of deer on public land, and the spread of diseases.

CWD

The Herd Health/CWD Team believes CWD management requires input from local stakeholders, must be based on published science, and must contain adaptive management practices.

To limit the spread of CWD, the team is calling for immediate response to the local situation when discovering new cases of CWD. The members want more public involvement, allowing and encouraging on-the-spot harvest of sick deer, enhanced surveillance, significant and sustained herd reduction, and banning baiting and feeding if such bans aren’t already in place.

The team is recommending increased CWD testing to detect the spread of the disease and expanded funding sources, along with a $2 to $5 increase in hunting license costs to support testing.

DMAP

After reviewing how it works in other states, the DMAP Team recommended implementing this program that aims to increase communication and build relationships between hunters, landowners, and the DNR.

DMAP provides a means for site-specific management of deer, other wildlife and their habitat, and provides landowners with resources they can use to improve the quality of the wildlife habitat on their property and more effectively manage the animals there.

Biologists and foresters will meet with landowners to learn their goals and answer questions, tour their property, and provide information and ideas on habitat-management practices and harvest strategies.

A management plan will be provided to landowners to help guide them through the process. The team recommends enrollment in the program and that on-site visits be restricted to landowners or landowner cooperatives that have 160 acres or more. To maintain the financial viability, the team is proposing a $75 3-year fee for enrolling in the program.

Public lands and those who hunt public lands also will benefit from the program. DMAP will establish working relationships between landowners, land managers, biologists, foresters, and hunters that will guide management decisions at the local level.

Hunters and landowners who aren’t enrolled in DMAP may also participate by having access to a library of resources, assistance with the collection of biological data used to monitor the population status and health of the deer herd, and the ability to participate in meetings and workshops.

A report of the recommendations is available is available at dnr.wi.gov.

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