Wisconsin Deer Trustee Dr. James Kroll was in Rhinelander April 9 conducting the second of six town hall meetings planned across the state.
Kroll was contracted by the state to review deer management practices and he has been conducting his reviews with Dr. Gary Alt and Dr. David Gyunn.
Those attending were asked to complete a brief survey indicating their age, sex, whether they own land, and whether they hunt private land, public land, or both.
Oneida County Wisconsin Conservation Congress vice chairman Ben Loma said 171 surveys were gathered, and that he counted roughly 178 in attendance.
The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted until well after 10 p.m., comes on the heels of the report Kroll had previously published about the state of deer management, using the town hall meetings to present these findings and ask Wisconsin residents for comment.
Kroll said the chance to do this is an honor for he, Alt, and Gyunn.
"We have a chance here in the birthplace of wildlife management, Wisconsin, to forge the birthplace of 21st century deer management," he said.
The effect on people, and their role, was an important part of the discussion.
Alt stressed that this is an important time for hunters.
"When we went to college for wildlife management, virtually everybody in that program was a hunter. That's not the way it is today," he said.
Alt said that hunters need to "help society meet their goals" regarding the deer herd. He is concerned that deer management in the future could fall into other hands, such as market hunters.
Gyunn focused on the declining whitetail deer harvests, saying that Wisconsin is not the only state to have issues, and citing factors such as maturing forests, increasing predator problems, and baiting issues.
He also talked about deer management assistance programs (DMAP), where managers get involved, especially with landowners, to manage a piece of property in a specific fashion.
DMAPs require an active role from the hunter/landowner as far as data collection.
Kroll called deer management a "three-legged stool."
"One of those legs is people, the other leg is habitat, and the third one is population," he said.
He went on to say, "If you leave [one of them] out of the equation ... you fall on your butt."
Kroll described the process of the undertaking.
This process included selecting a committee, meeting with the DNR, and meetings with various other stakeholders, including tribal representatives.
They then moved on to issuing the interim report.
The report, Kroll acknowledged, "hurt some feelings." The report is critical of past deer management practices in Wisconsin.
Kroll also said, "There were no solutions in that report on purpose. That's why you're here."
The next phase is the current one - the town hall meetings.
"We honestly want to know what you think. We want your solutions to this," Kroll said. He went on to talk more about what they expected from the crowd.
"We're not interested in hearing you bash the DNR...what we want to hear from you is a solution."
Kroll said he and colleagues Alt and Gyunn took on this job because the conditions were right.
"[W]e have independence. We're called the deer trustees. That word 'trustee' is important to us."
He added that they don't like to be referred to as 'czars.'
Kroll said when they deliver their recommendation, and it makes its way through the governor and the Legislature, the DOA, and the DNR, they're going to be there to see that it gets carried out.
"We're going to hold everybody's feet to the fire," Kroll said.
Kroll went on to say, "If it's not carried out, to your liking, I will raise holy hell and put the light of the media on them."
Through drdeer.com, Kroll surveyed people and identified five "top issues."
1. Too many predators.
2. DNR does not listen.
3. Inaccurate population estimates.
4. Come to a decision on baiting.
5. Eliminate Earn-a-Buck.
Kroll went on to discuss some more of the details of their findings.
SAK (sex-age-kill) models use numbers from hunting seasons to reach conclusions about pre- and post-hunt deer populations. Wisconsin has long used a variation of SAK to estimate populations.
Kroll talked about SAK models, and some of the troubles caused using them to estimate deer populations.
He also noted that determining deer populations is difficult.
"Telling you how many deer there are is the La Brea Tar Pit of whitetail deer management...even if I'm right, for your county, you're going to be that landowner, or that hunter, that's hunting in the one place that doesn't have any deer," Kroll said.
Kroll made the point that the focus should be on how many deer you want to harvest, not on population. He thinks that the SAK is useful only for establishing rough numbers, noting that, with one SAK model, the error rate has been found to be as high as plus or minus 121.9 percent.
To illustrate, Kroll said this means a population estimate of 10,000 means the population is somewhere between zero and 22,190.
Kroll also discussed CWD management and its ramifications on the population, noting that in some areas of the CWD zone, populations have actually risen even as management efforts have been geared toward eradication. He said these efforts have been costly and need re-evaluation.
Kroll said the deer range also needs to be re-evaluated, and that means getting biologists out into the woods.
"Boots on the ground. Looking at stuff," he said.
"The woods are happy to tell you how the deer are doing if you just take the time to look at it."
Kroll talked about a particular area property they had just explored, noting that it was good habitat, but there weren't many deer. He added, "A couple times we stumbled over wolf scat. Imagine that." This drew a few chuckles from the crowd.
Kroll noted that deers' effect on crops and forests is often discussed, but asked "Where is the information, the science, the technology, to manage our habitat to produce deer?"
Kroll advocates managing unique properties with unique strategies, and believes previous efforts in management have been reactive instead of proactive.
Kroll talked about dissatisfaction and trust issues they identified (between citizens and the DNR), opining that it happened over many years and saying, "Divorce doesn't happen overnight."
He also said it's not just the Wisconsin DNR.
"All of the DNRs around the country have got to move from a regulatory cop ... mentality, to a facilitation mentality."
Kroll described Wisconsin's regulatory process as complex and unpopular, at one point calling it an "800-pound gorilla."
Gary Alt talked about our predators, saying we have four that can kill deer: wolves, bears, coyotes, and bobcats.
Alt said we've seen increases in the populations of all these species.
According to Alt, the wolf population is more than twice the state's goal. He pointed out that wolf management has been in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to this point, due to the wolf's federal status as endangered. Recent delisting means the state can manage its wolf population.
Alt cautioned hunters that, if a wolf hunt does take place, to be careful because of the likelihood of litigation from groups that seek to stop hunts.
"If you try to shoot too many wolves too fast, you're going to go right back to court again," he said.
Alt also said there are a lot of very good scientists in our DNR, and that he admires many of them.
"It's not a science problem here," he said, "it's a sociological problem."
As far as predator effect on deer populations, Alt said that a wolf will kill about 20 deer a year, a bear on average about one, and that coyotes and bobcats can be expected to kill about two a year each.
The estimated total deer kill by our predators is about 68,000.
Alt refers to these numbers as a starting point, noting that the DNR recently launched a study in this area.
As predator numbers are increasing, according to Alt, so is conflict with them. He says our predators need to be managed, like the deer, for all the public.
Kroll discussed the need for hunters to go from being "hunter-consumers to hunter-managers" before the audience comments began.
Kroll, Alt, and Gyunn posed five questions for the crowd to comment on.
The questions covered these topics: How to get tribes, hunters, and the DNR working together again; how to simplify the process of establishing seasons and limits; how to increase opportunities; predation; and whether or not there is a place for a DMAP style program.
Many in the audience spoke and oftentimes dissatisfaction with the DNR was evident. Trust issues were often at the fore. Several people said the DNR doesn't listen to what hunters are telling them.
The role of the hunter and recruitment of young hunters were also hot topics.
Dave Elliot of Tomahawk made reference to the trust issue, saying that he has been seeing few deer in his western Oneida County hunting area, and opining that DNR deer population estimates are too high.
Elliot also spoke of recent attempts by the DNR to survey hunters, but said he doesn't want to share information with the DNR. "I'm afraid to tell them what I see [because] if they misconstrue that ... you think they're going to overestimate the population."
Patrick Kubeny of Rhinelander made reference to the idea of getting the DNR and the public back together, saying, "I'm not so sure it ever was working together ... I'm not so sure it's a 'getting back,' I think it's 'how to begin.'"
Kubeny also commented on the gray hair evident in the audience, relating it to a need to involve our youth in hunting. "There's a lot of old folks in here, not a lot of kids," he said. Kubeny believes strong efforts should be made to get and keep our youth interested in hunting.
Kubeny also placed some responsibility on the hunters, saying what hunters are communicating to their kids about the DNR, and also their own ethics, can have an impact.
"A lot of us, myself included, in some ways, or in some shape or form, we've all probably compromised our ethics as we've seen our deer herd dwindling."
Kubeny also related ethics to the hunters' role in management.
"If we want to have good data-driven decisions, we're going to have to provide that data. Accurately."
Lake Tomahawk resident and Oneida County WCC member Ed Choinski said, "One of the biggest problems we still have, and I have been screaming at the top of my lungs for years, is that we are killing too many fawns."
Choinski also noted that interest is waning among many, especially the young, and mentioned some of the frustration of his own family. Like Kubeny, Choinski pointed out a lack of young people in the crowd.
Choinski's final comment drew applause from the crowd.
"If you just put the animals back on the landscape, I think you're going to solve a lot of issues."
Many thanked Kroll and his team for their work and the opportunity to share in the effort.
Kroll said a final report will be issued sometime before the first of July.
Kroll's interim report can be accessed from the DNR website at dnr.wi.gov.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com