Thursday, January 7, 2010

Time for an Independent check on Wisconsin deer herd estimates?

According to an article on the - A northern Wisconsin lawmaker says he will push for “independent validation” of new deer herd estimates by the state Department of Natural Resources.

“I’m glad that legislators on two committees (Senate Natural Resources/Assembly Fish & Wildlife) agreed unanimously this week to give voice to deer hunter dissatisfaction with the condition of Wisconsin’s deer herd by returning to the DNR an administrative rule setting statewide deer population goals for the next couple of years,” Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover), said.

DNR has come under criticism for allegedly mismanaging deer herd estimates in recent years, including the most recent hunting season which saw a 29% drop in the harvest. Many hunters complained about the lack of deer during the gun season and put much of the blame on the department.

Holperin, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee and represents the 12th Senate District covering northeastern Wisconsin, said “The statewide deer population goal proposed in the rule (748,000 animals, up from the current 737,000) may be the proper number needed to balance the interests of hunters, forestry, agriculture and human safety, but there’s not an easy way to know that without an accurate count of how many deer there are in the woods right now, and hunters have been properly skeptical of recent DNR estimates in that regard.

“Legislators on the committee are hoping the department will respond by telling how they plan to get independent validation of their herd estimates, or what other methods they intend to use to make their population estimates more credible with hunters.”

Holperin said the department should begin reassuring hunters that, especially in northern management units, “serious herd rebuilding strategies will be put in place for the 2010 hunting season and beyond, if necessary.”

He added, “The legislature looks forward to hearing from the Department soon and anticipates continuing to work with the Department to assure that deer hunter voices are heard loud and clear in the rule-making and deer management process.”

Last Dec. 17, three weeks after the gun deer season ended, DNR Secretary Matt Frank testified before a joint Senate and Assembly legislative committee that the department’s 2009 pre-season forecast anticipated a lower harvest primarily due to an expected reduction in antlerless harvest.

Frank said, “This reduction was a response to population declines in the last two years which were a result of herd reductions efforts as well as below average fawn production. Statewide preliminary registration figures indicate the harvest during the nine-day gun season was down 29 percent from 2008 to 196,098. This includes 86,708 antlered bucks -- a 12 percent decrease -- and 109,390 antlerless deer – a 39 percent decrease from 2008.

“We know that the herd is smaller in some regions of the state which is why we took action to reduce the harvest in those areas. During this season, 13 deer management units had no bonus antlerless permits. 38 units were moved out herd control to regular season, and 29 units were moved out of earn-a-buck, all contributing to a decline in antlerless harvest. In all, the number of regular units increased from 21 in 2008 to 59 in 2009.”

He told the panel that in some areas of the state the deer population is below goal, and efforts are focused on increasing the population. “Overall, fewer deer on the landscape equals fewer deer seen and fewer harvested. We must continue to manage toward a sustainable, healthy deer population,” he added.


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