Deer answers offered by DNR

Springfield — One thing has been certain about the state’s deer program over the past half-decade or so.

There are far more Q’s than A’s.

With a number of issues facing the agency – even as hunters begin to purchase permits for next season – DNR took a direct step toward answering some of the biggest questions by releasing earlier this month a “Q and A.”

An example of the questions asked – and answered – was why DNR uses deer-vehicle data as a way to estimate the size of the state’s deer herd.

DNR has received criticism in recent years because of a drop in the total deer harvest and a perception that the state’s deer herd is in steep decline. The fall 2013 deer harvest was down by nearly 25 percent.

While the agency and its supporters point to natural causes, including consecutive epizootic hemorrhagic disease outbreaks in 2012-13, along with bad weather conditions during shotgun seasons, critics claim the deer herd could be better managed.

One  group critical to DNR’s deer plan is the Illinois Whitetail Alliance, which was formed in February and has since written its own deer managements plan. The Alliance has met with DNR twice, including a meeting held May 5.

For its part, DNR announced earlier this month that it will make final decisions on deer permit quotas and the list of counties open for late-winter seasons “once all data, including the final deer-vehicle accident statistics from the Illinois Department of Transpor­tation are available sometime this summer.”

“We are committed to making deer management decisions based on the best-available science, and we will make those determinations when all of the numbers are in hand,” DNR Director Marc Miller said.

Lotteries for deer permits are already underway.

DNR noted that it has flexibility to close late-winter seasons and adjust county permit quotas for the firearms season after the lottery drawings start.

The deadline for the first lottery passed on April 30. The deadline for the second lottery is June 30.

“The first two lottery drawings are generally all about participation,” DNR forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton explained. “If at all possible, biologists try to ensure that quotas are sufficiently high to allow hunters to receive an either-sex permit for the county of their choice during those lottery periods. During the past several years, changes in permit quotas have primarily impacted the number of bonus permits that are available to hunters beginning with the random daily drawing periods in September.  Hunters should not be concerned that participating in the firearms season lottery will have any negative effect on the status of the Illinois deer herd.”

Miller has said that DNR continues to analyze and consider feedback it receives from the public, taking into account information it collected during last year’s series of public deer meetings.

Deer management Q&A

Below is the deer management “Q and A” released by DNR this month.
Q: Why use deer-vehicle accidents as your index to deer population?
A: DVA numbers correlate well to population trends and are a valuable index to herd status. Surveying the entire state by air would be nearly impossible, cost-prohibitive, and still not provide a definitive number. Road kill surveys are used to gauge population trends of many wildlife species.
Q: Why does it take so long to get the numbers?
A: The Illinois Department of Transportation will provide the numbers as soon as all accidents are entered in their database. It is a huge undertaking and the DNR is grateful to IDOT staff working as quickly as possible to provide that data.
Q: Won’t the deer-vehicle accident numbers come in too late to be useful this year?
A: No. Biologists will have plenty of time to make changes after the numbers become available.  Decisions on permit quotas and late-winter season counties will be made when all the data is available – whether DNR receives deer-vehicle numbers today or in July or August.
Q: The DNR website already lists dates for late-winter seasons. Why announce the late-winter seasons if the decisions haven’t been made yet?
A: Season dates have been established by administrative rule.  Counties that are open for the late-winter season normally are announced by October. The late-winter season may still be needed in some counties. Listing the dates does not mean changes will not be forthcoming.
Q: Why were some counties that were below a 14 percent reduction in deer-vehicle accidents in 2012 still open for the 2013 late-winter season?
A: The statewide goal called for a 14 percent reduction in DVAs, which was achieved for the first time in 2012; but goals for individual counties varied widely. The formula was the same for calculating statewide and individual county goals. Initially set at a rate halfway between the lowest and highest DVA rates during the period 1994–2007, there have been minor adjustments since then.
Q: How can I find out more about DNR’s decision-making process?
A: We are working on new communication strategies to do a better job of sharing DNR’s management goals, methods, and ultimately our decisions, with the public. In cooperation with the University of Illinois, development of a new website devoted to deer and deer management is underway. 

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