St. Paul — Minnesota’s first deer-management plan is nearing completion, with the general public scheduled to get a look and be able to comment on it in April, DNR officials said last week.
On March 14, the latest draft of the plan was presented to the Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee, which then offered comments to DNR staff now working on edits before the plan is presented publicly.
Committee members, who’ve been meeting almost monthly since December 2016, were, during the course of those meetings, able to make recommendations on three items: a recreational feeding ban (which is a recommendation only) and deer management in the moose range. The third recommendation – to allow for more than a 50-percent increase as an option during the deer goal-setting process – was not included in the initial draft but will be added to the version presented to the public.
To make an accepted recommendation, initially, 14 of 19 members were needed. That number dropped to 13 after one committee member resigned.
At the March 14 meeting, members heard from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who highlighted the importance of deer hunting in Minnesota, before turning things over to Leslie McInenly, the DNR’s acting populations and regulations program manager.
“This is not an operational plan,” Landwehr noted. “How many permits are in my area, that type of stuff we have been doing. This is the broad, strategic vision. Some people will be unhappy because it doesn’t get into the weeds.”
Landwehr noted the plan has pushed the DNR to make a better effort in connecting with hunters and giving them an annual opportunity to comment. The department will be opening up dialogue with hunters at the local level, holding annual meetings that it said were once held but were phased out because hunters stopped showing up.
A statewide deer input group will be established, though officials said how that will be structured is still in the works. The DNR also plans on increasing big-game-specific staff.
Committee members went around the room, pointing out tweaks they’d like to see made, such as some of the wording regarding recreational feeding. Some would have liked to have seen stronger verbiage from the DNR on the matter.
The plan reads, “Due to substantial public interest in deer feeding, the DNR is proposing continued work to identify opportunities to assess public support for the committee recommendation.”
Of the members, 15 supported the nonbinding measure recommending banning it altogether at the June committee meeting, while four opposed the measure. A handful of committee members represent farming interests.
“It’s clear we need to do something to reduce the risk of spreading diseases,” said Dan Butler, an at-large member from Cohasset. “If we don’t deal with this, we could be talking in 20 years about how it was nice when we had deer.”
Bob Marg, with the Minnesota Farmers Union, said he sells feed to older people who feed deer, and another member noted his grandmother likes to feed deer. Banning the feeding of deer won’t be popular, they said, a point that wasn’t lost on DNR officials.
Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, took issue with some wording inside the document that spoke of maintaining “deer densities on their shared range (with moose) as low as possible,” contending that the use of those words will be seen as a slippery slope by some who want there to be higher deer numbers in the moose range.
Wildlife managers contend that brainworm – carried by deer that are immune to the parasite – is one of the main factors stressing the state’s northeast moose population.
Engwall said he wouldn’t have supported a related recommendation had it used those words, because that could be viewed as less than what even the DNR’s Moose Management Plan calls for (at 10 deer or less per square mile in the core moose range).
McInenly noted that the recommendation does say to “manage deer in the primary moose range at levels consistent with the current (2011) Moose Management Plan.”
McInenly addressed how the plan’s harvest-management objective of 190,000 deer annually was increased to 200,000, a shift that had been whispered about by some members.
McInenly pointed out that the committee never was able to reach a consensus on a figure, with hunters generally wanting more deer, and agricultural interests wanting fewer. The most support any of the options got was eight votes in favor of a goal of 225,000 deer to be harvested, with eight opposing and three absent.
McInenly said as 190,000 was worked internally in the department, it was decided to go up 10,000 and “put up 200,000 for public comment.”
“No other state has a harvest objective like this,” McInenly said.
“It’s another metric to look at at the end of the season,” said Bernie Overby, an at-large member from Kenyon.
There were other issues brought up, such as one from Dennis Thompson, representing the Minnesota Forest Resources Partnership. He took issue with Strategy 32, which said to, through legislation, “implement automatic license fee increases to accommodate for inflation.”
“I worry where the dollars are going,” Thompson said.
An effort to delete that strategy failed, with 11 members supporting it, three against it, and three abstaining from the vote.
The DNR shared a timeline it hopes to keep for the plan.
Following public comment in April, it hopes to revise the plan during June, completing and finalizing it this summer, followed by implementation and annual reporting.