In 2014, County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs) were established as a way to better involve the public in deer management, and they were given great responsibility.
These councils, made up of volunteers from a variety of stakeholder groups such as agriculture, forestry, tourism, conservation clubs, and law enforcement, are responsible for setting the deer population objectives for their county, meaning they decide whether the deer herd in a county should increase, decrease, or maintain its population. They also set antlerless deer quotas and make recommendations to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Board (NRB) as to how many antlerless tags should be issued for a given county.
It’s quite a task.
“I give them a lot of credit. I have a lot of respect for the folks that are involved in this,” DNR big game specialist Kevin Wallenfang said. “They do a very good job of doing the best thing that they can for the deer management and the deer and the hunters and whatever it may be within their counties.”
Wallenfang was on hand at December’s NRB meeting to evaluate the success of the CDAC system.
But because CDACs are so young, formed only five years ago, he said it may be too early for an accurate evaluation.
“It’s a little bit premature to try to say that they are succeeding or failing in any way here,” Wallenfang said. “They’re still learning. They’re still adjusting to what they can do.”
To make the decisions they have to make, CDACs gather public input on deer related issues through meetings and surveys, and they also study deer metrics.
Those metrics include harvest statistics, population statistics and trends, hunter participation and success rates, and winter severity index. In addition, the metrics report on vehicle, habitat, and crop damage associated with deer.
CDACs are also assisted by the expertise of the DNR.
“This is a partnership with the CDAC members and the department. We’ve got wildlife, law enforcement, and forestry staff involved as liaisons with every council,” Wallenfang said. “All these folks are very passionate about deer, about deer management.”
Therefore, with a vast amount of information at their disposal, every three years the CDACs decide whether to increase, decrease, or maintain their county deer herd. To achieve those population objectives they annually recommend an antlerless deer quota as well as how many antlerless tags to be issued and what seasons to utilize in their counties.
In the first three years, many CDACs in the state — except those in the Northern Forest Zone, which saw an obvious need for an increase — chose to maintain their herd while they became familiar with the new process.
CDACs are now in year two of the second cycle. For that cycle some counties chose to make changes and decided to increase or decrease their herd based on what they learned in the first three years.
“I think that they were still kind of in a mode where they’re looking for their happy medium,” Wallenfang said.
He also said just because a county chose to increase or decrease the herd in the second cycle doesn’t mean they failed to maintain the herd in the first. It just means they had more insight on the herd during the first three years and made changes accordingly.
“I don’t think it’s really possible from the broad picture to say any of these failed in any way, despite the direction that their population went,” Wallenfang said.
While success with population objectives may be difficult to determine after only five years, one thing the CDACs clearly succeeded at was getting the attention and trust of the DNR and the NRB.
Out of 3,000 recommendations made by CDACs, only 13 have been modified by the department or the board.
That means those recommendations are taken very seriously and most of the time followed.
With so much influence given to a very public process, which allows everyone to weigh in, one would think CDAC meetings are packed with concerned hunters.
They are not. They average 10 people in attendance.
“If there was one overriding point of frustration we’ll call it, for the CDAC members as a whole, it’s basically the disinterest in what they have going on,” Wallenfang said.
In an annual survey given out to hunters after the deer season last year, only 27% responded that they knew CDACs existed.
That indicates nearly three quarters of Wisconsin deer hunters have no idea who is managing the deer herd or how it is being managed.
That’s despite the fact that the DNR promotes CDACs in the regulation book, through email lists, and on social media.
“We’re using every avenue currently that we have other than perhaps looking up addresses and knocking on their door,” Wallenfang said.
CDACs were created in part so deer hunting was represented by deer hunters. But with such little participation and interest, the majority of hunters go unrepresented.
“That’s not a broad picture of what people do really want,” Wallenfang said. “That’s kind of one of the flaws.”
CDACs have a monumental task and they need as many hunters as possible offering their insight so they can accurately understand what’s happening in each county. Then they can make the wisest decisions concerning their quotas, population objectives, and recommendations.
Because no matter how much data and metric the CDACs review, nothing is more valuable than boots on the ground observations.
Therefore, in order for CDACs to work to their full potential, many more hunters have to get involved. They need to go to the meetings and explain what they see in the field or comment by online survey, and they need to tell their friends and family who deer hunt to do the same.
Preliminary numbers are set by CDACs in a public meeting in March followed by a few weeks of public comment. In April they reconvene for a second meeting and make their final recommendations for the season based on that public feedback.
Getting involved requires a very small commitment of time, but the impact is substantial.
Through CDACs, Wisconsin’s deer management is in the hands of the hunting public, and it’s up to us all to make good use of it.
For more information on CDACs visit dnr.wi.gov and keyword search “CDAC.”
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].