There is no question that in Wisconsin we value our outdoor spaces and our outdoor sporting traditions. A big part of that heritage involves the fall white-tail deer hunting season. For many years now, hunters and others have expressed concerns over the management of the white-tail deer herd in Wisconsin.
During his campaign, Gov. Scott Walker promised to appoint a “deer trustee” to review the herd management practices at the Department of Natural Resources. In October, 2011 Dr. James Kroll was hired as the state’s deer trustee. Kroll and his team completed their review at the end of June and issued their findings in a report released earlier this month. As part of their investigation, they reviewed data, met with stakeholder groups and gathered public comments.
Kroll explains that deer management can be looked at as a three-legged stool, with one leg representing population management, one leg representing habitat and one leg representing human interactions with deer. Each leg is equally important, because if one leg breaks, the stool will fall over.
Another point that Kroll makes in his report is that deer management is evolving from an art to a science but it is unlikely that it will ever be a completely scientific endeavor.
Kroll concluded that the public trust in the DNR has been seriously eroded over the years and will be difficult to repair. He explained that some of the issues surrounding the relationship between the DNR and the public revolve around the current population-estimating model and the Chronic Wasting Disease eradication plan, but the heart of the problem is the lack of public involvement in deer management goal setting and decision-making.
One recommendation of the deer trustee is to do away with population estimates and population goals at the individual deer management unit level, creating a simpler approach to manage the population. The report suggests reducing the number of deer management units and setting goals to increase, decrease or stabilize the deer population in different areas. The report suggests developing a series of metrics to measure progress toward population density goals. In addition, they emphatically suggest that the DNR work to put the fun back in hunting by simplifying seasons, bag limits and youth qualifications.
Another important recommendation is to take a more passive approach to the management of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). They suggest creating a system that shows a better picture of the spread of CWD and taking an active approach to managing outbreaks of wildlife diseases, similar to the approach to managing wildfires. They suggest reducing the waiting required to receive CWD results to just a couple of days and providing more information on concerns for humans contracting a CWD variant.
They also suggest holding an annual meeting to report on CWD, helping to increase awareness and build DNR credibility and working with the Conservation Congress to set goals at the county level. The deer trustee and his team recommend using to the star power of Wisconsin’s own “Charlotte the Deer,” an orphaned deer in Walworth County that made the news last year. Kroll suggests making Charlotte the “Smokey the Bear” of Wisconsin to serve as the centerpiece for a public education program on CWD.
To use a phrase from the final report, they are hoping that if the recommendations are enacted, they will serve as a “reset button” allowing the relationship between the DDNR and citizens to move forward in a positive, cooperative manner. Go to the Wisconsin Department of Administration website at www.doa.wi.gov to access a complete copy of the report.