Hudson, Wis. — With the DNR no longer allowed to present deer population information to the public in terms of population goals by unit or deer per square mile, the agency will ask for the public’s help from August through November in defining new population objectives required by the Deer Trustee Report (DTR).
Instead of having a population goal of, say, 25 deer per square mile, deer hunters and the DNR must now talk in terms of increasing, decreasing, or maintaining a deer herd.
“Change has been the name of the game for deer management over recent years,” said Eric Lobner, DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director, to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) at its June 28 meeting.
Now the DNR is trying to make any further changes required by the DTR more gradual.
Lobner presented a “scope statement” to the board that he said is “trying to minimize confusion and maintain the simplification” that using county boundaries for deer management units has provided.
The board gave the DNR permission to proceed with its three-year review of the state’s deer management units and deer population objectives.
When complete, the process should allow any changes to be in place for the 2018 deer season.
The DNR is required to review the population objectives – whether to increase, maintain or decrease the current deer population – every three years.
The population is adjusted based on certain “metrics” identified in the DTR, such as deer health, deer impact on vegetation, hunter success, car-killed deer accidents, herd population trends, and the public’s perception of population trends.
Lobner said the DNR will convene meetings with county deer advisory councils (CDACs) in August and October to determine recommendations and receive public feedback.
Public hearings will take place in November. The rules will come to the NRB for final approval in December, followed by legislative review.
Each CDAC will hold a weekday meeting in August to come up with preliminary recommendations, will receive public reactions in September, and then hold a second meeting in October to make final recommendations.
“We are trying to focus in on providing greater clarity on the definitions for increase, decrease, and maintain population objectives,” Lobner said.
The DNR wants the population objectives of increasing deer populations to not exceed 25 percent growth over three years. Likewise, they want decreasing populations to not exceed a 25 percent decline over three years.
Where the population is to be maintained, it should stay within (plus or minus) 10 percent of the population starting in 2017.
“We want changes in herds to be more gradual, and more over time rather than dramatic changes,” Lobner said.
It has been only three years since the new DTR deer management system has been put in place. Lobner admitted there is some reluctance to make changes this early.
DNR is asking CDACs to look at several considerations:
- Minimum size of units. The state went from 143 units to 72 via the DTR. Making units any smaller could impact the confidence in the numbers.
- Insure that CDACs are looking at all of the metrics influencing deer numbers.
- Being sure units use historic geographic information.
- Review the boundaries between northern forest, central forest, central farmland, and southern farmland zones.
- Creating new metro sub-units, as cities grow.
NRB member Greg Kazmierski, of Pewaukee, expressed his concern about the population objectives. He said the objective should be harvest objectives, not deer population objectives.
He said that studies show the Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) method of calculating deer populations is ineffective at the individual deer management unit level.
“I’m concerned about locking into this based on population objectives … which goes against the whole management plan,” Kazmierski said.
Lobner said that while past studies had concern over SAK because of how small the deer units were, the DNR now has larger units that provide better data. He said the DNR can also look at a variety of metrics.
Kazmierski said that what drove the changes for the public was that “nobody believes our numbers in the first place.”
Lobner again stressed that the goal is to have gradual population increases and decreases – not dramatic changes.
NRB member Bill Bruins, of Waupun, asked if a lot of counties have seen deer herd increases of more than 25 percent. Lobner said there are a number of counties in that situation.
The scope statement was approved 6 to 1, with Bruins voting no. Now the DNR will begin drafting proposed rules to review DMUs and population objectives.