Last Tuesday evening, April 17, 172 persons gathered at Rhinelander High School to hear a report presented by three experts on the subject of managing white tail deer. The three experts, who were hired by the Governor to study deer management in Wisconsin, talked to those who were interested enough to sit for almost 31/2 hours, and also listened to those in attendance.
Dr. James Kroll, a Texas resident, led the research team. The other team members were Dr. David Guynn and Dr. Gary Alt. Each of these researchers is well known throughout the deer range in the United States. The title of the topic for the evening was, “Forging a New Model for Deer Management in the 21st Century.”
Dr. Kroll put a sign at the entrance to the auditorium that said, “Please leave your personal feelings outside the door.” He further explained that the purpose of the meeting was to obtain constructive ideas from those in the audience. There have been six similar meetings held around Wisconsin this week.
Dr. Gary Alt spent 51/2 years managing the deer herd in Pennsylvania. He said that deer impact everyone from hunters to wildlife observers and also other wildlife. He went on to state that, “When agencies and sportsmen go to war, there are no winners.”
He told about a research study where GPS units were placed on 500 hunters. Two-thirds of these hunters remained within 1/3 of a mile from a road. Those hunters who hunted further than 1/3 of a mile from a road said they were trophy hunters who were looking for a big buck.
Several times the researchers talked about changes in hunters, as well as changes in the methods that hunters are using.
The subject of registering deer that have been killed by hunters was covered. The presenters explained that they feel that it is mandatory that hunters register harvested deer. They felt that the current practice of filling out a form is antiquated and must be replaced by a better system. It was recommended that an electronic registering system replace the current practice.
Wisconsin tries to explain the deer population by estimating the number of deer per square mile. They feel that should be replaced with a more meaningful method to explain the deer population. Deer management was compared to a three-legged stool. The legs represented people, habitat and population of deer. When one leg is missing, the stool will collapse.
Dr. Kroll explained that we must think about managing deer in the broadest spectrum. Some time was spent discussing the need for much more logging in the national forest. Originally the national forests were managed for the timber they produce. Presently the forests are at a point where they should be logged to allow the sun to reach the ground. This would allow growth that would grow deer feed and support other wildlife.
Many in the audience questioned the effect that predators have on the Wisconsin deer population. It is only one of the factors that influence the decline of the deer population in some areas.
Dr. Kroll emphasized that he was acting as a “Deer Trustee,” not a “Deer Czar.” When they took on this project, they insisted that they have the independence to talk to anyone and ask any questions of Wisconsin residents in order to study the deer management activities in the State. They feel that the “hay day” of deer hunting in Wisconsin is over, and hunters must “quit measuring success by how many deer we kill.” It is better to focus on deer harvest rather than the number of deer in our area.
According to Dr. Kroll, “We need to change from hunter-consumer to hunter-manager.” It was suggested that one thing that would be helpful would be for hunters to be responsible for gathering data. It is vital for a trust to be developed between the hunters and the DNR.
Some time was spent discussing the need for hunting and fishing regulations to be recommended by professional managers and hunters rather than legislators. California was given as an example of how out-of-control regulations can get when legislators are directly involved.
Wisconsin residents certainly got their money’s worth from these three experts. They continually emphasized that they were seriously interested in the input from those who were in the audience.
The final report will be presented to the Governor sometime in July.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column appearing in the Star Journal.