DEC creates ‘buck zones’

Albany — They’re called Buck Management Zones.

There are seven of them, created by DEC wildlife staff as a precursor to what could be sweeping deer hunting regulation changes for the 2016 season, with a focus on yearling buck protection.

What we don’t know at this point is how the DEC plans to manage those bucks; a much-delayed meeting to unveil the proposal, originally scheduled for April, has now dragged well into summer.

But New York Outdoor News has obtained a draft copy of the buck management zone plan and there are indications that at least some of those seven zones will see a form of “yearling buck protection,” which could include antler restrictions.

“(Buck Management Zones) are the level at which stakeholder preferences for buck harvest strategies will be measured and the level at which, if warranted, antlered harvest restrictions will be made by DEC,” read a draft report on molding groups of wildlife management units into those Buck Management Zones.

DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said the seven Buck Management Zones “were delineated only to provide some reasonable scale for recommendations about potential alternative buck management strategies.”

The seven Buck Management Zones – DEC looked at creating no fewer than five and no more than seven – include:

• a portion of the Northern Zone where Deer Management Permits are not available.

• the portion of the Northern Zone where DMPs are offered.

• WMUs 1C (Suffolk County) and 3S (Westchester County), grouped together because of “statutory distinctions in season structure and management authority,” according to the DEC report.

• the deer-rich Lake Plains region, which the report said is “substantially greater” than any of the other zones “in terms of fawn-to-doe ratio, soil quality, proportion of agriculture and mean antler beam diameter.”

• the Mohawk Valley region of central New York. The DEC report noted that region “has the most severe winters compared to the other (Southern Zone) groups and actually has the lowest buck kill per square mile.”

• the Catskills region, a wide grouping of southeastern New York WMUs that stretches toward the Southern Tier.

• the Southern Tier region, a collection of units that stretches into western New York.

DEC’s wildlife staff considered several factors when grouping the WMUs into the Buck Management Zones, including the proportion of forest and agriculture; winter severity; crop production; historic buck kill per square mile; and historic deer population (including antler beam diameter and fawn-to-doe ratio).

Also considered was the number of respondents within wildlife management units to a recent survey of the state’s deer hunters “to determine what level of confidence we would be able to achieve for the pending Structured Decision Making analysis of hunter preferences regarding antlered harvest regulations in New York state.”

That survey showed the state’s deer hunters remain solidly divided over the issue of antler restrictions, and an analysis of the survey noted that there “is clearly no regulatory solution that is going to make them all happy.”

DEC officials have said previously that hunters must be willing to accept the “tradeoffs” associated with a move to some form of antler restrictions, which are currently in place in 11 wildlife management units in southeastern New York. Those include passing on the opportunity to harvest a yearling buck.

The survey also showed that while some hunters were either unsure or “right down the middle” on accepting restrictions on shooting yearling bucks, some hunters surveyed – 17.4 percent – were supportive of both restrictions on buck harvest as well as the freedom of hunters to choose what buck to take.

“This group indicated a strong willingness to accept restrictions on young buck harvest and is relatively willing to pass opportunities on young bucks, but at the same time places a high value on the freedom of choice,” the survey analysis read.

While the final report, including recommendations on regulatory changes for deer hunting in the state, was ready to be unveiled in April, that has yet to happen. Delays in meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff have stalled the release of the report.

Any regulatory changes wouldn’t be made until the 2016 hunting season.

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