The Wild Side: New deer management program
Next month we will continue our roll-out of Wisconsin’s 21st century deer management program. In the past, we managed deer using a process that was designed to use the best available science to manage the herd at a healthy level. There were several steps in that process that included public participation early on. The new deer management program re-structures the decision-making process while still incorporating population science, hunter input and environmental impacts.
Each county in the state is currently forming a County Deer Advisory Council or CDAC. This council will be made up of six to eight members who volunteer and apply to participate. Any applicant must represent an identified stakeholder group. Naturally, hunters will be at the table, but other groups will include agriculture, forestry, tourism, transportation and someone from a municipality to represent urban or metropolitan deer issues. At least three members must have deer hunted in seven of the last 10 years. Those who enroll in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) will also be invited to participate. The council will be chaired by a Conservation Congress delegate from the county. Wildlife biologists like me will serve as a liaison between the council and the Wisconsin DNR. A DNR forester and warden will also participate as representatives. Truly, though, this will be a citizen stakeholder group that will be in the driver’s seat for deer management in their county.
CDACs will review and consider deer herd trends, impacts and human interactions. They will gather public opinion on deer population objectives, antlerless quotas and season structure options, and make recommendations to the DNR. There will be three or more meetings a year to accomplish these tasks. Each meeting will be open to the public, so even if you are not on the actual council, you can still come and see what is going on. If you wish to make a statement, you will be given the opportunity to sign up for a three-minute window.
Our first round of meetings will be in September. We will be starting the process for the 2015 deer season; the 2014 season is already established and published. Our September meeting will be an opportunity to meet and get to know the members of our council, and we will undoubtedly be talking about the process, our current status and next steps. In our next meeting (late October), the CDAC will make a preliminary recommendation on increasing, maintaining or decreasing the current herd. This is a dramatic departure from the old days of managing to a goal of X number of deer per square mile of habitat over winter. These recommendations will be compiled with all the other counties and presented to the public for review and comment. After the deer season, the CDAC will come together again to review the deer season numbers and winter severity impacts. The council will develop an antlerless quota recommendation for the fall season at that time.
This is a whole new way of doing deer business, and we are bound to make mistakes along the way. I give a lot of credit to the folks who have worked tirelessly for years—Deer Trustee Report analysis, committees, rule development and now implementation have been a lot of work. There is a need for flexibility and cooperation here, because we will be bringing people to the table with diverse opinions and backgrounds to work toward a common task that will inevitably make at least some percentage of their hunting public unhappy. These are exciting times, though. We are writing history. If you are interested in learning more, you can look in the deer hunting page on the DNR website, or contact your county’s wildlife biologist directly.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.