Late last month the Natural Resource Board (NRB) was presented with information regarding antlerless deer quotas and recommendations from the County Deer Advisory Committees (CDACs). While all involved praised the CDACs on the job they have been doing managing the deer herds, an underlying theme was some committees desire more "tools" for their management toolboxes. The county decision creating the most turbulence was the recommendation in Buffalo County to have an antlerless- only season this fall. While the CDAC there made it clear it would rather have other options, it was also expressed that this was the only management option available to the CDACs to put in place the type of herd control desired.
Jeff Pritzl, acting deer ecologist for the Wisconsin DNR, presented antlerless quota and authorization information to the board as well as information regarding CDAC meetings in the counties across the state. While in-person attendance has remained lighter than the department or the CDACs would like, online participation continues to grow, with over 9,500 public input forms received regarding the 2019 deer hunting season framework.
"The winter severity index plays a big role especially in northern counties," Pritzl told the board when discussing the final recommendations from the CDACs regarding the antlerless quotas. While winter severity was almost nil before January, there was a six-week period late in the season that spiked the winter severity index in counties in the Northwoods into the "severe" range. Winter severity, more so than any one other factor, determines the health of the deer herd for the coming year as well as the likelihood of fawns and pregnant does surviving and being healthy until the next fall. The CDAC initial recommendations took that severe late-winter weather into account.
Luckily, Pritzl said, that weather finally broke before the April meetings, when the CDACs gave their final recommendations. Overall, in the northern forest zone, approximately half of the counties reduced their antlerless quota and about half increased their quota over last year. For the first time in 10 years, however, there will be no "buck only" recommendations to come from any of the CDACs in the state.
In the Farmland Zones, 29 counties opted for the Holiday Hunt, which is up from 19 last year. Of those counties, 22 also opted for an archery season that would extend into January. That number is 10 greater than last year as well.
Pritzl told the board the department supports the quotas in all but two counties. The department felt the number of antlerless authorizations, based on past success percentages, was too low in Monroe County. The agency also did not agree with Buffalo County's "antlerless- only" recommendation.
The other recommendations, however, were fair and just, he said.
Overall there was an increase in 17 counties in the farmland zones regarding the number of free antlerless tags with 16 counties in total offering up three or more of those bonus tags. Pritzl told the board this, as well as holiday and metro hunts, offer more opportunity for those hunters looking to harvest an antlerless deer.
Larry Bonde, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) was present to offer the support of the WCC for the recommendations of the CDACs. He said it would be important, however, moving forward, to ensure all of the CDACs are aware of the tools available to them and understood their options.
"CDACs are working, and they are working well," he told the board. "We do hear some rumblings about things. But Earn-A-Buck ain't gonna happen. It did not work in the past and it won't work now."
Bonde said perhaps the WCC and DNR should look at the Farmland Zones more specifically rather than the state as a whole. He again recommended making sure those CDACs fully understood the tools available to them and how those tools can be used to help to manage their herds.
Mike Brust, representing only himself in this instance, was present with his opinion as well. In reference to Buffalo County specifically, he said the problem was not a lack of interest in harvesting antlerless animals, but a problem with access. Many on the board agreed that, although they were speaking specifically of Buffalo County at the meeting, there were many other counties paying close attention, as their situations mirrored that of the "squeaking wheel" quite closely.
George Meyer indicated the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) was also in favor of more tools for the CDAC herd management toolbox. He said the WWF opposed ending the Earn-a-Buck program due to concerns over the current situation of overpopulation in some farmland units.
"There is a need for the board to authorize additional tools such as Earn-a-Buck," Meyer told the board. "I am not so pessimistic as Larry (Bonde) is."
He said the organization felt Earn-a-Buck was overused and people "got sick of it," in the past, but it could still be a viable option.
"There are other options besides over-issuing antlerless tags which will not be used," he said. He did agree, however, that the Earn-a-Buck program was in need of reform such as being locally issued by CDACs and being only allowed for a small number of years in a row.
Meyer, and others, were also proponents of a partial antlerless season such as the 2-day buck, 7-day antlerless season once used in some counties near the Mississippi River. The season could be changed a bit, he said, to a 4-day and 5-day, with the antlerless opportunities early in the season.
He mentioned the role outfitters play in the imbalance of the herd in areas like Buffalo County, which is 92 percent publicly owned. Several members of the board also expressed that concern and wanted to see more open lines of communication regarding herd management with outfitters.
"But it's not an issue we can resolve talking amongst ourselves," said board member Bill Bruins.
All board members agreed it would take a cultural change and the outfitters in control of some of the bigger tracts of land would have to be major players in the game. Buffalo County, as an example, has some hot spot areas that are a problem, but it was said there is nothing in the metrics that points to the county having a deer problem in general. The same could be said for other counties.
The board also agreed the department, as an agency, needs to find better ways to communicate with landowners. Former chair Terry Hildenberg felt more interest could be raised in CDAC meetings if there were a more localized way to invite hunters to the meetings, such as via use of email by the CDAC chair of the county, rather than an email blast from the department covering the entire state.
The overall feeling was that it would take time to change hunting attitudes and understanding of managing deer herd numbers. Board member Greg Kazmierski felt that engaging the outfitters and large landowners would be crucial and, for those leasing out their land, perhaps a clause indicating the lessee would shoot a certain number of antlerless deer per year from the property as well as outfitters taking hunters out for trophy bucks, might help in alleviating some of the problems where there are large amounts of private land owners.
In the end, the board approved the recommendations of the CDACs for each county, with some talk of ensuring the proper tools were in the CDAC toolboxes and all understood how to use them.
Antlerless tags in the Northwoods, as recommended by the CDACs were as follows: For Oneida County, 1,350 tags for public land and 2,000 for private; Vilas County, 150 public and 350 private, and Iron County 125 for each public and private.
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