Earlier this week, Texas deer biologist James Kroll (known as Dr. Deer) issued the report amidst much fanfare. As reported here on the Whitetail Wisdom blog, the report really didn’t have much in the way of new suggestions other than abandoning deer herd estimation process and implementing a deer management assistance program (DMAP) similar to what has been done in other states.
The DMAP caveat appears to be the biggest suggestion in the report. Most folks I’ve talked to have never heard of it and are wondering what it all entails. The following background information will help you make some sense out of DMAP.
I’m not one to be an “I told you so,” but my initial speculations on what might be included in the final report included a prediction that the final recommendations (again, if implemented) will do little, if anything, to improve deer herds and deer hunting on Wisconsin’s 5.7 million acres of public land.
Outside of a few passing suggestions that the state must do a better job of working with the Feds on managing the national forests, there is, in fact, not much in the final report on how we can improve our public land hunting. Instead, much attention is given to DMAP and how the state should seriously consider this as a saving grace.
Before getting into the discussion, let’s try to find a common definition of the DMAP concept.
That isn’t easy. A definition depends on whether one looks at the South or the North. Oklahoma’s description is typical of most Southern states:
“DMAP is a program aimed at intensively managing deer herds on private lands. It is designed to give cooperators – whether landowners, hunt clubs or lease operators – extra assistance in managing deer. Under the program, cooperators set their own management goals ranging from producing maximum numbers of harvestable deer to producing trophy bucks.”
Although DMAP agreements are signed annually, the intent seems to be to seek a fairly long term relationship between the regulatory agency and the cooperators.
In the Northern states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Michigan), DMAP is mostly used as a damage-abatement program where individual property owners can seek additional site-specific bonus antlerless permits beyond what is prescribed for a county or management unit to provide relief from too many deer.
The main purpose of DMAP is to make available site-specific antlerless tags where greater harvest is desired than would be allowed with the regulations affecting the larger area surrounding the site. Landowners can easily restrict harvest, but cannot exceed State bag limits. DMAP harvest permits allow exceeding the local antlerless bag limit on the site and are exercised during regularly scheduled hunting seasons.
Most Southern states require that properties to be enrolled must exceed 1,000 contiguous acres, although Virginia has no minimum. These can be single-owner or cooperatives. Average enrollment in Virginia is 1,700 acres and in Mississppi is 2,600 acres. North Carolina applications require a 3-year history of harvest records and some, whereas Oklahoma require results of 10 spotlight counts so that the biologist can assess herd status. Applicants must define an objective. Recognizing density dependent responses, Virginia specifically states, “…’more and bigger deer’ [together] is not a legitimate deer management option or objective.”
DMAP plans in Tennessee cost each enrolling landowner $1,000 unless the management plan is prepared by an approved consultant (then the fee is $350). Louisiana requires only 500 acres and charges $25 plus 5 cents an acre for a plan. In Pennsylvania, each DMAP harvest permit costs resident hunters $10.70, but in most states the tag allocation is free.
The “cost” of some plans is merely to provide bio-data back to the agency. Most plans require that cooperators provide the agency with a post-harvest report including number, sex, weight, antler measurements, lactation of does, date of kill, and jawbones. In turn, the agency reports back with interpretation and recommendations. Some states have waived fees to encourage cooperators as they have found that DMAP participation falls off when regional bag limits are liberalized and there is less interest in supplemental antlerless tags. Participation in Alabama fell from a peak of 2,100 cooperators to 100 as bag limits on antlerless were widely liberalized.
Will it Work in Wisconsin?
That’s the million-dollar question (or should I say $125,000 question?).
Unlike the Southern states (where large landownership is common) Wisconsin has 362,000 non-industrial private woodland owners. Of those landowners, only 2,000 own 500 or more acres. There are a total of 9,000 landowners in Wisconsin who own 200 or more acres. Approximately 176,000 people in Wisconsin own 10 acres or less.
The average Wisconsin woodland owner owns 21 acres.
So, where does this leave the state in relation to Kroll’s recommendation for implementing DMAP? Not sure, but two things are clear:
1. This is certainly a plea for privatized deer management, and
2. If applied in the same manner as is done in Southern states, DMAP would benefit 0.14 percent of Wisconsin’s deer hunters.
As ridiculous as that last statistic sounds, it would still wreak havoc on the DNR’s staff and budget.
Furthermore, DMAP would not be advantageous in any units that tend to be Herd Control or undersubscribed for bonus tags, and Wisconsin already has damage tags and a program to address local problems. Goal-setting by landowners would likely result in higher densities of deer than desired by the local community and cause aggravated damage to neighboring fields and woodlots as is already evident in the majority of farmland units. Hunter-owners tend to disregard other constituencies served by the State and rarely have an appreciation for concepts like ecological sustainability (of woodlands). And, herd reduction whether by plan or nature seems resented by most hunters.
Availability of antlerless tags has not been a problem in Wisconsin, but incentivizing hunters on private land to fill tags seems to be the need.
How will this be accomplished in future years is anyone’s guess.
— For more information on Wisconsin deer hunting: