The four citizen action teams that were formed on March 9 to help implement recommendations from deer trustee Dr. James Kroll to overhaul Wisconsin's deer management practices have reached the half-way point in their deliberations.
The teams focused on improving herd health, simplifying hunting seasons and regulations developing better procedures for conducting research and creating a deer management assistance program (DMAP).
After three additional meetings, the 43 members comprising the four teams were on hand for a public meeting June, 8 at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point .
They updated the progress made in addressing questions and collecting comments on implementation proposals as they continue moving forward.
Kurt Thiede, the DNR's Land Division Administrator, welcomed team members and the public to the meeting which began at 10 a.m.
"A tenet of the Deer Trustee Report was to make sure the public had an opportunity for input into deer management in Wisconsin," he said, "We've had online chats and today's meeting is being streamed live over the Internet, so those watching also will have an opportunity to ask questions.
In March, a Deer Trustee Implementation survey also was distributed to the public as an additional means to collect comments on multiple aspects of deer management.
"The survey focused on broad long-term deer management topics in Wisconsin, and over 9,000 responses were completed," Thiede reported. "The action teams are considering the survey results in developing proposals."
The 10 members of the DMAP action team faced the unique challenge of creating an entirely new program to help improve the state's deer management.
In addition to the meetings in Stevens Point, members held a teleconference with Dr. Guynn, who provided additional information.
The team supports implementing a statewide Deer Management Assistance Program on both private and public lands including the chronic wasting disease management zone.
Components of the program would include:
• A free initial onsite consultation visit from a biologist and forester, with the landowner receiving a packet of information detailing specifics of the program;
• Providing landowners with instruction on conducting wildlife inventories and monitoring resources; and
• Requiring participants to collect and report biological harvest data to DNR.
Hiring a DMAP coordinator was strongly supported by the team. Members stressed the coordinator should be focused on working in the field - making property visits and working with people.
Tom Hauge, DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director, reported that a job description for the position is being completed. He expects recruitment to begin this summer and hopes to have the coordinator on the job sometime in the fall.
The team recommends establishing an additional DMAP antlerless permit system, with tags to be issued based on property-specific assessments.
Members also support an annual meeting for participants where a wide variety of harvest data and biological information could be shared.
They favored working with biologists and foresters from other organizations in conducting annual range evaluations to assess habitat health and expanding the use of satellite imagery to aid in the effort.
A small fee, around $50, also is being considered for landowners to enroll in DMAP.
"This program will have landowners and the public working with the DNR, not rich people doing what they want," said team member Andy Pantzlaff.
The 11 members of this team are considering 14 recommendations related to improving detection of chronic wasting disease and keeping it from spreading.
They agree with the Deer Trustees' Report in taking a more passive approach to controlling CWD rather than trying to eradicate the deer population.
However, they recommend continuing to reduce the herd to minimize animal contact and slow the spread of CWD.
In the CWD management zone they suggest returning to the traditional nine-day gun season, along with the regular archery, muzzleloader and youth hunts.
The team favors a reduced holiday hunt for antlerless deer only and setting a total yearly maximum per-person harvest.
Supporting an expansion of testing to detect the spread of CWD, the team members recognized that additional funding may be needed to accomplish this and are proposing a license fee increase in the $2-$5 range.
While there is no evidence that people can acquire CWD from eating meat, providing more information on human health risks of CWD and variants like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is recommended.
The team also proposed reducing the time required for getting test results from the current two weeks to a few days.
With 20 members, this action team offered several wide-ranging proposals for changing the state's deer hunting framework. They favored:
• Reducing the number of Deer Management Units (DMUs), leaving the Northern and Central Forest Boundaries intact and combining the Farmland regions into three units;
• Simplifying the regulatory process by setting harvest regulations and antlerless quotas on the three-year cycle, with the forest regions continuing on a one-year cycle;
• Increasing the cost of antlerless tags and charging a fee for antlerless tags in the CWD zone;
• Limiting antlerless harvest in regular and herd control zones; and
• Maintaining the current limit of one buck per gun license and one per archery license.
They also proposed that gun and archery licenses be valid to harvest either sex deer in farmland regions, with the same license valid for only bucks in the forest regions.
For hunters wishing to harvest additional deer, the team is recommending a package of three antlerless tags for $20.
The team accepted the recommendation to base antlerless permit quotas on DMU historical demand rather than SAK information, population estimates or other indicators.
Responding to concerns of potential over-harvesting of antlerless deer on public land, the team proposed restricting the days for gun hunting with allowable harvest on any property with public access. Bow hunting and the muzzleloader season would remain unchanged.
The team members also favored discontinuing the October antlerless hunt in the CWD zone but allowing DNR to retain authority to allow an early hunt only on private land in the zone.
Attempting to send a message to the State Legislature, the team supported a ban on baiting by a vote of 13-2.
Members also favored curtailing deer feeding and giving the Wisconsin Conservation Congress a more active role in deer management decision making at the local level.
Composed of 12 members, this team was charged with providing direction and serving as a sounding board for science and research efforts being conducted by the DNR.
Members tackled the thorny issue of the controversial sex, age, kill (SAK) accounting model for monitoring deer population size and trends.
After rejecting the recommendation to severely limit use of the SAK model, they recommended its continued use at the appropriate level for management at the DMR-level and for scientific inference.
They also recommended exploring ways to more rigorously examine and incorporate local knowledge into the deer population estimates and to keep collecting registration and harvest age-data during the firearms season.
The team supports retaining population goals as a management tool but encourages developing additional metrics for monitoring deer populations and evaluating unit goals on a three-year cycle, and including valid local input in considering setting goals.
They also recommended reducing the number of DMUs while aggregating current DMUs and maintaining recognizable boundaries.
The team endorsed continuing high-quality research on predators including geospatial studies and sustainable harvest of predators to monitor trends in population growth and predation
There was also strong support for widespread use of trail cameras to study predators and to enlist more citizens in monitoring predator activity.
All action teams emphasized the need for more effective communication with all stakeholders and with the general public. Following the public meeting, all teams met for another two hours to work on additional proposals.
Teams have scheduled meetings on June 29 and on July 20 when they will present their final reports.
Writing administrative rules, based on the recommendations, will occur from July 20-Aug. 26.
In late September the Natural Resources Board will review the proposed rules and request a public hearing which is likely to take place in late October.
Sometime in December the board will review public comment and act on adopting the rules, which are expected to be in place for the 2014 hunting season.