County deer groups seek management goals

Monroe, Wis. — The first round of county deer advisory council meetings is nearing completion throughout each of the 72 counties in Wisconsin. The gatherings will collect public opinion and offer the DNR advice and suggestions on local deer populations, antlerless quotas, and season options. The CDAC charter also includes the review and consideration of metrics on deer herd trends, impacts, and human interaction.

“The primary goal of this meeting is to gather information about the status of our deer herd in Green County,” CDAC chair Bryan Richards told participants at the Green County meeting. “At our next meeting, we have to decide if we want more deer harvested, fewer deer, or if we want it to stay the same.” 

Richards, a delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress for the county, also noted that different recommendations must be made for public and private land.

The second meeting will take place toward the end of October, Richards told the group, to begin the process of making recommendations for a three-year period. Each county committee must submit its preliminary recommendations to the DNR by Oct. 31.

A public comment period on the preliminary recommendations will transpire from Nov. 3 through Dec. 5, a time when many hunters will be in the woods for archery and rifle deer seasons. The advisory information thus obtained will then be passed on to the Natural Resources Board for implementation in 2015.

There have been various attempts to engage the public in deer-management decisions over the years. The closest thing to this initiative is perhaps the “Team Deer” concept that surfaced in the early 1990s, according to Bob Nack, DNR big-game section chief. “That wasn’t nearly as structured as what we are doing now though,” he said.

“What we’re doing is clearly different than how we’ve done things in the past,” said Mike Foy, DNR wildlife manager for Green and Rock counties. He describes the change to a county deer management approach as “dramatic.”

“We’ve switched back to allow the counties considerable ability to make decisions about deer management in their communities,” he said. “(Now) there is a system to empower people to advise the DNR and the Natural Resources Board – and even higher levels, including the Legislature.”

“What I’ve heard from staff has all been positive,” Nack said. “They (meetings) have been generally lightly attended by the public, but they’ve been well-organized and positive.”

He also noted that the people who are getting involved have various backgrounds.

“I’ve been really impressed with the people who have been stepping up,” Nack said.

Tom Avis, of Solon Springs, is the hunt/conservation club representative for Douglas County. Retired from the military after serving several tours in Iraq, Avis has been hunting deer as long as he can remember. In between overseas stints, he has served as chair of the Conservation Congress delegation from Douglas County. Avis is a member of the Douglas County Fish and Game League, which claims up to 1,200 members under the program guidance of 40 directors.

Each of the state’s 72 counties offers unique land surfaces and wildlife habitat. Much of Green County’s land mass holds productive farm land. There are only five lakes, which comprise less than 1 percent of the county’s land area. Public land totals a mere 7,000 acres.

Green County is situated in the DNR’s new Southern Farmland Zone abutting the Illinois state line and stands in stark contrast to Douglas County – in the DNR’s new Northern Forest Zone – where only Bayfield County extends farther north. Douglas County borders Minnesota and includes the Great Lakes port of Superior. 

The contrast between the two counties could not be more glaring. One cannot drive far in Green County without seeing a herd of brown Swiss or holstein cows lolling about a wide-open, green pasture. Conversely, the Douglas County landscape features lots of trees and lakes (431 lakes covering 22 square miles, all told).

Al Horvath serves as chair of the Douglas County CDAC. He has been involved with the Deer Trustee Report since the early stages of discussions last year when sportsmen from around the state converged on the UW-Stevens Point campus to discuss implementation of Dr. James Kroll’s recommendations. Kroll’s involvement has served as a springboard to the current CDAC effort.

Horvath recognizes the perceived disconnect between the hunting public and the DNR in his area.

“We’ve hit a real storm of harvest issues,” Horvath said. “We’ve been asked to harvest an incredible number of does. Predators, overharvest, bad weather have all kind of combined to bring us to where we’re at.”

Green County has its own set of problems, according to 35-year Conservation Congress veteran Ken Risley, who serves as an alternate chair and secretary of the county CDAC. 

“Most of the public land is swamp land following the Sugar and Pecatonica rivers,” Risley said. “It’s not good deer habitat. It’s tough to hunt – you’re talking reed canary grass over your head.”

Douglas is one of several counties in the Northern Forest Zone where no antlerless tags are available this year – it’s buck-only hunting for the archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons.

“We’ve been asking for that for years,” Avis said.

As recently as 2007, 5,468 deer were shot in the county, now down by more than 50 percent to 2,609 in 2013. 

“I’m just hoping that the DNR will listen to what these councils have to say,” Avis said. “The proof is in the pudding,”

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