As a biologist, deer hunting seasons could be considered the end of my “deer year,” but I honestly consider it the beginning. No matter how you look at it, deer management in Wisconsin is a year-round activity. Right now, we are waiting for the deer harvest information to be entered from hundreds of thousands of registration stubs. That information will help us determine our post-hunt deer population, which combined with our winter severity measurements will help us calculate the overwinter population. Basically, this is the population at its low point before fawns are born, boosting the deer herd numbers in the spring.
We are also waiting to see what our 21st century deer management program is going to look like. Last fall, we announced the Deer Trustee Report (DTR) review process was complete, and we hosted a series of meetings around the state to present the results and collect feedback on its components. The attendance at these meetings was low across the state, considering the importance and significance of the proposed changes. There was an online survey option available, and the response rate was similarly low. According to Eric Lobner, our Deer Trustee Report Implementation Coordinator, the response to the rule hearing process left a number of unanswered questions regarding the direction to proceed with the DTR Rule Package. Consequently, the decision was made to hold off on presenting a final deer rule package to the Natural Resources Board because we wanted additional time to review and discuss the rule package with key conservation groups around the state. That process is now complete, and the new deer rule package has been presented to the Natural Resources Board.
There will be some familiar segments of the new deer program, some changes, and some new additions. For the Northwoods, probably the most significant changes include the discontinuation of the four day December antlerless hunt. Also, hunters who purchase a license will be given the option of one free antlerless deer tag that would be valid in a farmland unit, but not in the forest units. In other words, archery hunters would be able to take a buck with their license, but would need to buy antlerless tags if available for their management units if they wish to harvest a doe. All antlerless tags would cost $12 each. As far as management units go, the traditional unit boundaries will be changed; from this point forward, they would follow county boundaries. There will be no changes to the season structure for the nine day firearms season, the youth hunt, the muzzleloader hunt, or the hunt for hunters with disabilities. The holiday hunt, Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, will only occur in the Southern Farmland Zone; basically the southern quarter of the state.
A new addition that has gotten some attention is the Deer Management Assistance Program, or DMAP. Landowners can enroll in one of three options depending on their acreage and level of interest in involvement. They will be able to work with biologists and foresters to manage their land in concert with the wildlife that uses it. This program is in the early stages of development, and more details will be coming in the next few months.
The rule proposal is now in front of the Natural Resources Board, awaiting their approval. You can read the entire proposal, or a nice four page summary, on the DNR webpage. Go to www.dnr.wi.gov and type “deer trustee report” into the search box. There are links at the top center of the page to more information. I will also have some copies of the four page summary available at the DNR Service Center, 107 Sutliff Avenue, Rhinelander. The new year, and new era, of deer management is here, and we will be learning and experiencing it together.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.