Oct. 22 will be an important day in terms of the future of deer management in the state.
That is the day that the Natural Resources Board (NRB) will hold a listening session to allow scientists, who are concerned about the lack of science in recommendations from the public action team to implement the Deer Trustee Report, to present their concerns.
Board members know that they will hear from hunters following the 35 public hearings being held on the same public action team recommendations. But the board heard in September that people who have a science background are very concerned about the changes, such as one that would reduce the current 133 deer units down to either 72, one per county, or lumping the current units into 50 or 60 larger units.
Another would do away with in-person registration of deer at registration stations. Registration of every deer shot in the state has been in place since the early 1950s and in the past was one reason why the state was considered a leader in wildlife management.
In a 1972 DNR publication the DNR stated, “Originally the registrations started as a means of precisely determining the total deer harvest, but more recently is used as a vital part of wildlife management programs tailoring each season to the needs of the range.
“Its value has increased as the department accumulates records over the past, indicating potential harvests and herd size in each area. In addition, it provides data for determining the age, sex and condition of the herd, as well as aiding enforcement of hunting regulations.”
The board also wants to hear from the DNR on how any changes will be incorporated into current programs. The NRB will then take all of the information and approve a plan at its December meeting in order to begin changes with the 2014 deer hunting season.
The problem for the science people is that many of them are likely to be DNR employees. They are likely to be biologists and statisticians who are members of The Wildlife Society, the professional organization for wildlifers, and are employed by the DNR.
Others could be employed by the University of Wisconsin, Tribal members or private conservation groups. But they may even have concerns if they receive grants or assistance from DNR if they would be countering the belief by DNR leaders that the Deer Trustee Report is the best thing since sliced bread.
There are many who acknowledge that deer management needs a course correction, but the concern is that by throwing out past data collection methods will undermine scientific management.
Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.
Because the current top leadership of the DNR has its background in politics and serves at the pleasure of the governor who appointed the deer trustee, it is imperative that if scientists have concerns about proposed changes, that they come forward and express those concerns.
The question is whether they will be allowed to do that and still remain in the good graces of – and employed by – the DNR.