Not even the proverbial expert from more than 50 miles out of town can resolve the controversy that divides people about managing the state’s white tailed deer herd.
Virtually every program for deer management presented by state Department of Natural Resources game managers and other interested parties have been challenged by a segment of the population.
There is this old adage that people are skeptical when somebody local proposes a solution to a problem, no matter how logical or workable, because their opinion is less valued than that of somebody outside the area – the further outside the better.
In an effort to settle the deer controversy, Gov. Scott Walker went way outside the area to find a “deer trustee.”
Texas researcher James Kroll was hired in October 2011 for $125,000 to undertake an extensive review of the DNR’s policies in response to promises Walker made on the campaign trail to respond to hunter’s complaints.
Kroll and his staff recently released a list of 62 recommendations in a 135-page report.
One item that drew response was for the DNR to start a program that allows landowners and hunting clubs to run mini-hunts on their property after consulting with DNR biologists. The hunts would help manage local herds, build trust with the public and provide valuable scientific data from the dead deer.
Democratic leaders raised speculation that Kroll might recommend privatizing public lands citing remarks made in 2002.
Some suggestions have been in place for years, but they have been fine tuned and given new priority in the report.
With regard to deer population estimates they suggested using the SAK (sex-age-kill) model only on a statewide or regional basis not individual management units as currently practiced.
Local populations would be described in terms such as increasing, decreasing or stable, not in numbers of deer per square mile. The state is divided into about 95 units to allow micro management and give everybody a kick at the can in determining the annual deer hunt.
Deer managers hold annual meetings at which hunters and the public can present their ideas about the pending hunt and question data provided by the experts.
The most controversial issue is the estimate of deer per square mile as hunters doubt the accuracy of the estimate.
Other issues include:
• More passive approach to chronic wasting disease.
• Set antler less hunt regulations every three to five years, rather than annually.
Determining the ideal size of the state’s deer herd is an issue because of the number of stakeholders affected by it.
The report suggests more cooperation with public and stakeholders. More time with forestry and agricultural specialists and develop local management teams. Greater involvement of the county Conservation Congress members is also suggested.
Factors to be considered in determining the deer size include hunter success, deer-vehicle accidents, agricultural damage, chronic wasting disease incidence, forest regeneration and bio-diversity.
Hunters are part of the problem as well as the solution.
Kroll said hunters want more deer than the land can sustain. They want a herd so large it would defoliate the state’s forests and create more car-deer crashes, he said.
“Ironically, by attempting to raise more deer than the land can sustain, they wind up with fewer deer,” the report says.
Kroll warned if the DNR and hunters can’t resolve their conflict the state’s rich hunting tradition could vanish.
“Legislators will step in and start mandating heavy-handed changes,” he said. “Hunters numbers will decline and the DNR will have to rely on predators to control the herd.”
Wolves are baying at the proverbial door to fill that role. That’s another controversial issue for the DNR to manage.