Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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NRB goes with 13 buck-only deer units

Madison — Antlerless deer harvest quotas for the 2015 seasons will stand exactly where county deer advisory councils wanted, and that includes 13 buck-only counties.

There were 19 buck-only counties last year.

The Natural Resources Board on May 27 approved the DNR’s recommendation to accept all of the antlerless quotas requested by CDACs.

This is the first year CDACs were operational and recommended quotas for their counties; 2015 will be the second year that counties are used as deer units.

The quotas mean that this fall there will be 13 units with no antlerless quota (primarily north-central Wisconsin). The rest of the state will have an antlerless deer quota of 224,735. Last year, the antlerless quota was 239,750.

Tom Hauge, DNR wildlife management director, said the recommendations and issuance of antlerless permits are intended to help CDACs meet 3-year population goals for their counties.

“The mild winter this past year has set the stage for herd growth across central and northern forest zones,” Hauge said.

One change this year is that in the farmland deer management zones, where free antlerless deer tags are issued, hunters must specify which unit the tag is to be used in and whether it is for public or private land.

Hauge said there will be fewer antlerless tags available for public land than in past years, so this will mean changes for some hunters.

Hauge reiterated that CDAC members are all volunteers. He thanked them for their time, and the Conservation Congress for helping out.

Dr. Frederick Prehn, a new NRB member from Wausau, inquired about the data behind the buck-only recommendation for eastern Jackson County. Hauge said the Central Forest has had low numbers recently, and since the herd had not rebounded sufficiently, local hunters wanted buck-only hunting.

NRB member Bill Bruins asked about changes in deer numbers in the north. Hauge showed where there has been growth in some areas of the Northern Forest Zone, resulting from buck-only rules last year and a mild winter.

NRB member Terry Hilgenberg asked about what he considers a high 15,000-antlerless deer quota for Shawano County. Hauge said the county is large, and people are concerned about forest growth, but they’ve chosen to maintain populations.

“They wanted the quota at 15,000 even though it is way above their ability to harvest deer,” Hauge said.
Hauge admitted that the DNR could have altered the recommendation in order to bring it down to where the harvest really is, but the agency wanted to honor the local CDAC recommendation.

NRB member Gary Zimmer asked for clarification regarding the zero quota for antlerless deer in specific northern units. Hauge said there are exceptions for youth hunters, disabled hunters, and military personnel on leave. Statutes allow these hunters to shoot antlerless deer, even in a buck-only situation.

Different views

Two conservation groups gave different evaluations of the deer situation.

Rob Bohmann, chairman of the Conservation Congress, said the congress supports the CDAC recommendations.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, cautioned that despite what the DNR says, the state’s deer-hunting system presents reasons for concern.

“Despite this optimism, there are red flags,” Meyer said. He listed the following examples:

  •  The DNR secretary states the public participation level and attendance at meetings demonstrated the lowest level of public involvement in quota setting during the past three years. Most counties only had a handful of public members in attendance.
  • Deer populations may increase to a point where some counties may not be able to achieve “maintaining” of deer populations in 2016 and 2017.
  • A significant number of CDACs asked for their counties to be split because of differences in deer habitat. That is why deer units historically were created around ecological habitat.
  • CWD is increasing in the southern counties.

Meyer added that the DNR‘s CWD strategy is to track the increase, but experts say that testing in counties outside the CWD zone is insufficient to detect the spread of CWD.

Meyer said the board needed to be aware of these red flags, which could make deer management more difficult in the future.

NRB member Greg Kazmierski said he hears about CWD concerns all the time and wants to know what can be done.

Meyer said the health of the deer herd is important and that he realizes the difficulties. He said the WWF is willing to work with the agency and that education is important.

“In the month before the last deer season, even though there is a significant disease, there was only one news release sent out regarding CWD,” Meyer said, adding that it is difficult to find information on CWD from the DNR.

Kazmierski pressed for a solution, and Meyer gave an example of Illinois, which has had more success than Wisconsin in controlling CWD.

Meyer said that if “25 percent of the adult bucks in Iowa County have CWD, that is a long-term problem and it will take leadership.”

DNR Secretary Cathie Stepp took issue with Meyer’s comments, saying that the DNR does not regard news releases as a measure of success.

Stepp said the DNR had tried to educate the public over the decade in a number of ways, but the Legislature got involved because many of the practices were unpalatable to the public.

Stepp then defended DNR employees who have tried to encourage public involvement, saying there has been more involvement in recent years.

“For some people, the old ways may be talking at the public and this is how it is going to be, but it doesn’t work,” she said. “They love the opportunity to be a full partner with the department and how we can manage together. No longer is it acceptable to treat them as tools.”

Bruins asked about developing harvest differences between public and private land. Hauge said biologists have walked CDACs through the processes in harvest, and in the past the DNR did not have a way of controlling the harvest on public lands.

Hauge added that this will be the first year of public versus private land, and the first year to gauge how many hunters are actually applying for permits on public lands in a county.

Stepp, still visibly upset by Meyer’s questioning of the DNR, said the hunting public has been skeptical, and this is about building relationships.

“This is a partnering effort,” she said. “I am so thrilled at the work out of these committees. When people see their input really matters, they will get involved.”

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