Deer regs changes on hold

Ballston Spa, N.Y. — Potentially sweeping changes to New York’s deer-hunting regulations won’t be made this year.

DEC officials, citing a tight schedule to complete the regulatory process to allow for public comment in time for publication in the 2015-16 hunting and trapping regulations guide, said any potential changes won’t come until next year.

“We’re not going to rush it because of a deadline to print our (regulations) syllabus,” DEC chief wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller told a statewide gathering of sportsman education instructors last month. “We don’t have the time this year to get any changes in place for 2015. Any changes that would occur would be for 2016.”

There were early indications the time frame to have the proposed changes in place in time for publication in the regulations guide was ambitious. One major step in the process – a survey of 7,000 hunters to be conducted by Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit – was stalled due to the lack of a working agreement with the university.

Staff shortages, including the retirement of DEC “biometrician” Ed Kautz, also came into play.

Batcheller, who himself will be retiring in July, said data from the Cornell survey was expected to be in the hands of DEC biologists later this month.

“We’ll evaluate that data and sort it out and begin to form some recommendations,” he said. “We know that this is important to hunters and we are going to do a very efficient and thorough outreach effort, not only with stakeholders like the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, Conservation Fund Advisory Board and the New York State Conservation Council, but then go on the road and have public meetings around the state.

“We’re not going to do a rush job on this. It’s too important.”

While the process itself is daunting, the decisions will almost assuredly divide an already divided deer hunting community.

DEC officials have previously indicated any regulations changes will focus on some form of yearling buck protection and could range from mandatory three-points-on-one-side rules to simply educating hunters on the benefits of passing on yearling bucks and letting them grow to maturity.

Among the options:

• 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.
• simply promoting 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 unlikely.

Complicating the process is the creation of several regions – collections of wildlife management units DEC has labeled “WMU aggregates” – across the state where regulations could vary from one region to the next.

Those WMU aggregates have yet to be revealed, but early indications are there will be two such regions in the Adirondacks (one where Deer Management Permits are now offered and one where they are not available). Lines are also expected to be drawn in southeastern and southwestern New York, as well as the Finger Lakes/Lake Plains area and the Central New York/Mohawk Valley region.

DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst confirmed last month there’s “the potential” for different regulations in different parts of the state.

Wildlife management units would still remain intact, primarily for DMP allocation purposes.

The issue of antler restrictions – and mandatory antler restrictions in particular – has divided hunters, with some regions viewing mandatory antler point restrictions more favorably than in other areas.

Mandatory three-points-on-one-side regulations have been in effect in 11 southeastern New York units for several years.

“There are very strong emotions about antler restrictions,” Batcheller said. “It’s an area of policy interest to hunters.”

DEC harvest statistics in recent years have shown fewer yearling bucks are being shot by hunters who are instead passing on young bucks in hopes of taking a bigger buck at some point in the season.

“We’ve been looking at that issue quite rigorously for some time now, looking at the whole arena of issues pertaining to antler restrictions – everything from hunter opinion to the effects on deer management,” Batcheller said.

The Cornell survey notes 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.”
Batcheller agrees “there are tradeoffs” when imposing some form of antler restrictions.

With the decision to push back any regulations changes to 2016, it’s unclear whether the regulatory process will move forward this year or early in 2016. But early indications are the public meetings will be held this year.

The annual hunting and trapping regulations guide typically is printed in early summer ahead of the beginning of the new license year, which this year begins Sept. 1.

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