After months of waiting and thousands of forum and blog comments made across the blogosphere, Texas deer biologist James “Dr. Deer” Kroll has issued his final recommendations to “fix” Wisconsin’s so-called deer problem.
BY DANIEL E. SCHMIDT, D&DH EDITOR
If a tree falls in front of 700,000 deer hunters, would anyone hear it? That depends. If the tree is dressed as a deer czar spewing buzzwords, double-speak, and unrealistic, unattainable hyperbole as it’s falling, everyone will probably just step to the side, brace for the crash and then thank God it’s finished.
That’s precisely what should happen now that Texas deer biologist James Kroll has presented his final recommendations to “fix” deer hunting in Wisconsin. As you might recall from earlier installments of the “Whitetail Wisdom” blog, I was critical (some said overly) of the initial report Kroll, also known as Dr. Deer, provided Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year. After reviewing his 136-page report today, I find the entire exercise quite disappointing, very contradictory and peppered with happyspeak apparently thrown in to calm the already turbid waters.
First, a point of order. Kroll and his colleagues in this endeavor, Gary Alt and David Guynn, should not be individually demonized. If my earlier blog posts were misread as such, I will be the first to apologize. These men have done noteworthy and significant work in their professions through the years. However, they knew what they signed up for when they took on this project. That included intense scrutiny of any suggestions, which they were being paid handsomely to provide.
But the news of the day is their report, namely their recommendations. And at face value, there really isn’t much meat on the bones. These are just a few “highlights” that stand out:
Deer Czar Recommendation: Do away with sex-age-kill deer population goals and estimates.
Reason: Because some hunters think DNR managers have been arrogant in the past and, hence, the public doesn’t trust the DNR’s population estimates.
Concession: Kroll’s team agrees with the DNR’s 2006 SAK audit report that estimated populations levels reflected actual conditions in the wild.
Proposed solution: None.
“Unfortunately, we cannot recommend alternative population estimating procedures that are less susceptible to assumption violations or sample size requirements at the DMU level.”
Analysis: It works, but we should scrap it? I’m at a loss for words.
Deer Czar Recommendation: Increase the cost of antlerless tags to $12 statewide. Also, institute fees for does tags in the CWD zone.
Reason: The state “devalues” deer by offering free or cheap doe tags.
Analysis: This one is a real head-scratcher. To a hunter, venison from a “free” doe is just as sweet as any other. To a nonhunter … who cares?
There are upsides to increased cash flow. I would suggest taking the first $125,000 and putting it back into the Department’s segregated funds account.
Deer Czar Recommendation: A push for statewide use of deer management assistance programs.
Reason: With the help of local biologists, landowners can manage their own herds via access to appropriate antlerless deer tags for their properties.
Analysis: So this is how all ends? We’ve fought tooth and nail to uphold the Public Trust Doctrine, but now it seems the inevitable is here. It’s just a sign of the times. For decades, true wildlife managers have agonized about the privatization trend, and have continually asked whether the European model will be an unfortunate inevitability for Wisconsin.
I’m not that old (45), but in my hunting lifetime, the sale of most farmer-owned woodlots to recreational owners has resulted in tight exclusive use of what previously was free-by-permission hunting. QDM, DMAP, and the demand for public-land and private-land antlerless permits are catalysts driving us in that direction.
Deer Czar Recommendation: The Conservation Congress should get more involved in decision making.
Reason: Apparently, it will make people feel better about themselves.
Analysis: Bad idea. The whole point of the CC is to give people an opportunity to talk and express opinions. When applicable and adhering to sound biological management practices, changes are made.
The problem with the CC all these years is that it has created a mob mentality among sportsmen. It has given people the notion that they have statutory authority to set policy. And now Kroll is advocating this?
Are you kidding me? Doesn’t he — or anyone else — see how bad a precedent this would be? Let’s forget about how easily it would be for special-interest groups within our ranks to push their beliefs unto everyone else. Instead, let’s take a cold, hard look at how deer hunting just become a political football.
Deer Czar Recommendation: Stop worrying so much about chronic wasting disease.
Reason: Kroll’s team said it is time to consider a more passive approach to CWD in the intensive management zone, because the fire is already burning and really cannot be controlled.
When dealing with new cases of CWD, the team said the state should implement a firebreak mentality and employ swift, overpowering force to stomp it out.
Analysis: The researchers might be onto something here. The current CWD plan has admittedly been a failure. We really haven’t reduced deer densities in the hot zone, and there has been a tremendous amount of wasted time, money and effort in some of the now-standard procedures. However, we still need some kind of plan for this deadly disease. Unlike BSE (mad cow disease) CWD is contagious and is known to be transmitted laterally from animal to animal.
Deer Czar Recommendation: Continue to conduct research on the impacts of predators on the deer herd.
Reason: Because coyotes, wolves, bears and bobcats kill deer.
Analysis: I agree. However, outside of wolf and bear hunts, there’s next to nothing the DNR can do to manage coyote and bobcat populations. Light trapping and hunting interest will only control a limited number of those animals. All predators are opportunists. They will live, hunt and kill in areas with higher deer densities
Deer Czar Recommendation: “Put the fun back into hunting by simplifying seasons, bag limits and youth qualifications!”
Reason: Too many hunters are downtrodden by politics and infighting.
Analysis: Here here! I’ll second that motion. But seriously, how does this put more deer in the woods?
Again, Kroll, Alt and Guynn are merely messengers in a war that’s been raging on and off in Wisconsin since the 1930s. Where should most of the blame be placed in this latest go-round? Three places — in no particular order:
1. Gov. Scott Walker. It is very hard to believe that Walker called for this unnecessary audit in the best interests of the deer herd. It is very believable that he used it as a political trump card. Bad call. Bad precedent.
2. The Wisconsin DNR. The blame here is on the DNR administrators that let this public relations nightmare get out of hand. It has been poor PR, poor management and poor communication all the way around. This does not (at least should not) trickle down to the deer biologists. They are the forgotten heroes in this senseless war. They were paid to do a job and did it too well. So well, in fact, that it confounds those who refuse to learn the intricacies behind deer behavior, biology and hunting.
3. Wisconsin deer hunters. If you are one of those guys who thinks deer hunting was better 25 years ago than it is today, put down the pipe and get some fresh air. Stop the whining, stop asking for handouts, and start hunting harder — even if that means finding a new place to hunt. You are responsible for your own happiness. Get out of the deer welfare line and improve your situation.
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