Reaction mixed to deer trustee report
Reaction to a state deer trustee's report last week was all over the board with some hunting and conservation groups praising the effort while one lawmaker called for the firing of the wildlife management team that is in charge of managing the state deer herd at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The 136-page report was issued Tuesday (July 10) by James Kroll, a Texas wildlife researcher who was hired last year by Gov. Scott Walker to evaluate the methods used in Wisconsin to manage the state white tail deer herd.
The report was published on the state Department of Administration website.
In it, Kroll urged the DNR to scrap local deer population goals and allow landowners to hold their own hunts.
The report focused on DNR activities and the lack of credibility wildlife managers have with the hunting public, but also dished out blame on hunters, saying that they want the deer population so large that they are guaranteed to get a trophy when they go hunting, which is unsustainable for the state's landscape.
If the state's damaged hunting tradition is to continue and get back to what it was, Kroll said, some compromises will have to be made.
In an interview on Wisconsin Public Television, Kroll said that the origin of the discontent among state hunters started with the inaccurate "sex age kill," or SAK, model that has been around since the 1950s; then the agency's attention was pulled away by Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD.)
"We don't need to know how many deer there are, we need to know how the forest is doing," he said.
Many other states are doing good deer management using other models, Kroll said, adding that Wisconsin's wildlife management officials are "competent and committed" but have come to rely more on science and ignored "social science."
Kroll said his recommendation is to give hunters more freedom, but with that comes responsibility.
Hunters must adjust their expectations, he added.
Wisconsin hunters have come to measure deer management in body counts and that has created unrealistic expectations, Kroll said.
When Walker hired Kroll last year for $125,000 to do the analysis, hunter criticism of the DNR's management of the state deer herd was the main reason.
LOCAL DEER MANAGEMENT UNITS
Kroll concluded that population goals for individual management zones aren't exact enough to be used for local deer management - and that's important because they are used to determine which control strategies will be used in that area.
Continuing to use them means that hunters will continue to lose faith in the agency's ability to manage the deer herd, the report concluded.
Kroll also suggested that landowners be allowed to hold private hunts on their own land to help manage local herds. There are more than 20 states that now allow that kind of hunt, the report noted.
The report, which was done with the help of Dr. David Guynn, a wildlife management professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, and Dr. Gary Alt, a former Pennsylvania game commission deer manager, called for a different approach to CWD, which was discovered in the state's white tail deer population a few years ago and which led to an attempt to eradicate deer from the endemic area for the disease.
The report said the DNR should re-evaluate whether to hold special hunts in that area of south central and southwest Wisconsin to determine if they are effective.
The public confidence in the DNR has been "severely eroded" in the last few decades, Kroll said, because of managers' handling of the CWD program and the SAK model of herd management.
The report urged that the DNR limit the use of SAK and do away with population goals while simplifying the regulatory process.
But Kroll underlined in the report that in no way were his comments to be interpreted as "questioning the dedication, effort of commitment to deer management" of the DNR's wildlife management staff. Kroll said he found them to be "helpful and generous."
Though some conservation groups were still digesting the material in the report, Wisconsin Conservation Congress Chair Rob Bohmann said Kroll and his team did "an outstanding job of involving the citizens of the state in this review and listening to their concerns."
Congress delegates from all over the state helped Kroll and his team in organizing six town hall meetings that were held throughout Wisconsin in April.
Bohmann said it appears that Kroll and his team "have made some great recommendations on key issues and we are looking forward to delving deeper into these recommendations in hopes of finding some common ground solutions to Wisconsin's challenges regarding deer management and improving our management practices."
The Congress, which is an advisory group of sportsmen, was pleased that Kroll specifically noted as a recommendation that the Conservation Congress must have a more active role in deer management at the local level.
"The Congress is prepared to work with the DNR as they review the recommendations and assist them where ever possible in the implementation," Bohmann said. "We are here to help in any way we can. While the report may now be final, the work has just begun."
A day after the report was issued, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said it would take some time to review the comprehensive report.
"While changes won't be immediate, my staff has already rolled up their sleeves and started their review, and are planning for how the public will be involved in the next steps," she said.
Stepp also noted that, within the report, Kroll and his team applauded the integrity, commitment and dedication of her wildlife management staff.
"During this very intensive review of our state's deer program, our deer program staff cooperated, kept an open mind and showed a great deal of professionalism," she said. "A review of anyone's work is never an easy thing, but I am very proud of the way they represented themselves throughout this process."
Still, less than a day after the report was released, one lawmaker called for the replacement of the DNR's Big Game Management Unit. Representative Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) issued a statement calling for the firing of the entire big game unit at DNR.
Stepp said now was not the time for such demands.
"Each day I am impressed with the work of what I feel is the finest group of natural resources professionals in the nation," she said. "Their dedication, commitment and passion for their work are unprecedented. I am proud to be associated with them."
The DNR is already moving in a direction of better public involvement, reconnecting with hunters and doing more listening and recognizing the importance of both sociology and biology in their decision making process, Stepp said.