Deer regs changes in motion

Albany — New York’s deer hunters can expect to see some regulations changes in 2015 that will focus on the protection of yearling bucks.

How that is accomplished remains to be seen, as DEC whitetail biologists move forward with a “Structured Decision-Making” process that includes a survey of hunters and the creation of management regions across the state that will be used in developing deer hunting regulations.

“I anticipate there will be changes,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said last month as the process moved forward. “The survey presents a ‘no change’ option but I don’t suspect that will be the case.”

In September 2013 DEC officials unveiled the plan to use the decision-making process that blends whitetail management goals with hunter desires. But the challenges will be huge; although more hunters are passing on yearling bucks than ever before in New York, there remains a solid fraternity of hunters opposed to regulations changes such as mandatory antler restrictions.

Antler restrictions – three points on one side – are now in place in 11 wildlife management units in southeastern New York, but that’s just one potential option that could emerge from the process. DEC officials said those options range from mandatory antler restrictions statewide for the entire season, to:

• mandatory antler restrictions for all of the archery deer season through the first week of the firearms season.
• a one-buck harvest limit for hunters.
• a shortening of the firearms season by one week in the Southern Zone and two weeks in the Northern Zone.
• an active promotion of voluntary antler restrictions in which hunters are urged to pass on yearling bucks.
• no changes at all, maintaining deer hunting regulations as they are. That, officials say, is an unlikely outcome of the process.

And regulations may differ from one region of the state to the next. DEC is in the process of establishing “WMU aggregates” which will be used in the decision-making process.

Early indications are the Northern Zone will be comprised of two regions – one in which Deer Management Permits are available and another in which no DMPs are issued.

The Southern Zone WMU aggregates – which have not yet been revealed – are expected to be divided along the lines of southeastern, southwestern, Finger Lakes/Lake Plains, and Central New York/Mohawk Valley areas.

Wildlife management units will remain intact for the purpose of DMP allocations.

“The WMU aggregates are a necessary prerequisite for the Structured Decision-Making process,” Hurst said. “And there’s the potential for (regulations) changes in different parts of the state.”

The decision-making process got off to a slow start last year when a key element – a survey of hunters – was delayed due to a lack of a working agreement with Cornell University’s Human Dimensions

Research Unit and the retirement of DEC wildlife biometrician Ed Kautz. A contract was ultimately signed, and Kautz’s position has been filled.

The Cornell survey, designed to help determine what “tradeoffs” the state’s deer hunters are willing to make in order to boost their opportunity of harvesting a mature buck, has been completed.

The 11-page survey, which was mailed to 7,000 randomly selected big-game license holders, and noted that “depending on the action taken to protect young bucks, hunters may have to give up some freedom to shoot a buck of any size, or give up some opportunity to hunt bucks.”

DEC staff was scheduled to meet this month to move forward with the process, with reports from the decision-making process likely by the end of March.

Proposed regulatory changes would be subject to a public comment period, and Hurst indicated a series of public meetings could also be held.

The regulatory process will be under a tight deadline if DEC officials want to have any changes published in the new hunting and trapping regulations guide, which is typically printed in the summer.

Given the creation of the new WMU regions and the prospect of some major changes in deer hunting regulations, it’s likely the department will want the decision in place in time for publication in the 2015-16 guide.

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