DNR to manage for more deer

St. Paul — The DNR has set new deer population goals for 40 permit areas in the state and will be working to meet those goals beginning with the regulations it adopts for this fall’s hunting season.

The agency will manage for higher deer numbers in 34 permit areas and attempt to stabilize deer numbers in six permit areas (relative to 2014 population estimates).

“We’ll definitely make up ground,” said Paul Telander, DNR Wildlife Section chief. “Deer numbers will be brought back significantly in a lot of cases here.”

Over the next three to five years, the agency will try to increase deer numbers by 25 percent in 21 permit areas and by 50 percent in 13 permit areas. To see a summary of the new goals, go to www.mndnr.gov/deer

Relative to previous deer population goals, 26 permit areas will be managed for higher deer densities; eight at similar densities to former goals; and six for densities below former goals.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and others had been critical of the DNR’s goal-setting process. MDHA, in particular, had asked the DNR to shoot for population increases above 50 percent in some permit areas.

Craig Engwall, MDHA’s executive director, said the group is disappointed that didn’t happen.

“But we’re not surprised by the 2015 population goal-setting numbers,” Engwall said.

He said MDHA is focused on the current deer management audit the state legislative auditor is conducting right now, as well as the statewide deer plan the DNR has committed to writing.

“That’s where our energy is focused,” Engwall said. “It’s not on the 2015 numbers.”

In four permit areas, advisory teams had recommended deer population increases of 50 percent, but the DNR instead chose to strive for increases of 25 percent. According to a news release, the agency chose more moderate population increases to better reflect the preferences suggested by hunter and landowner survey data and public input; allow more deer to be harvested; and minimize anticipated deer damage to agricultural lands and forest habitat.

The DNR will use the 2015 numbers in setting this year’s deer seasons.

“Now that new goals are in place, we are in the process of establishing the management strategies for the 2015 deer season,” according to the DNR’s ‘Minnesota Deer Notes’ email. “Research, program, and field staff members have been discussing season options and the agency will soon be making decisions for each permit area. Based on goals for increases in the deer population, hunters in many areas can expect another fairly conservative season as we work to rebuild deer numbers.”

In 2014, hunters killed 139,442 deer in the state. Harvest has been on the decline since 2010, when hunters killed about 207,000 deer.

In addition to setting population goals, the DNR also has announced that it’s postponing the 2016 goal-setting process as a result of the audit that’s under way. The audit is expected to be complete early next year, and could be an impetus for changes in how the DNR conducts its deer goal-setting process.

“I do think (the 2015 goal-setting process) is the last process that will follow this course,” Engwall said.

In the absence of goal-setting in 2016, the DNR, through a contract with the University of Minnesota, is sending surveys to a random sample of hunters and landowners in permit areas that were slated for consideration in 2016.

“… Information from these surveys will help inform our population management decisions for the 2016 deer season,” according to ‘Minnesota Deer Notes.’

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