/ Articles / Natural Resources Board tackles difficult role in deer herd management

Natural Resources Board tackles difficult role in deer herd management

July 03, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

Those involved in deer hunting and deer herd management across the state know the subject can be a contentious one, with strong opinions on each side and across the entire spectrum of what should and should not be done to improve the hunting experience, manage the herd, or to limit browse or agricultural damages.

This month the Natural Resources Board (NRB) spent about an hour and a half of their meeting going over recommendations that came from the County Deer Advisory Committee (CDAC) in each county. CDACs are a group of stakeholders from various backgrounds such as forestry, tourism, urban, sportsmen groups, tribes and others. They are volunteers who help to set recommendations for each county’s antlerless quotas and help to frame what they would like to see with the deer population in their county. They can make their objective to increase or decrease the herd or to attempt to keep it level. Much has been said about the limited tools in the tool boxes of the CDACs in the past, but one tool they have is setting antlerless quotas for the upcoming season.

The CDACs meet in April to set preliminary recommendations and then take public input into consideration before making their final recommendations in May, which then go to the board. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, public comment was taken online rather than at the meetings themselves. With meetings being done via telephone conference, it was thought this might be the best way to garner input from the public. 

It turns out that was an understatement. This year I was happy to see over 35,000 people participate and send in their comments. Last year that number was just over 9,500. So it is a huge jump in the number of people who are giving input and adding their ideas and voices to the pot. Another interesting thing this year was the DNR biologist for each county normally had a PowerPoint presentation they give to the CDAC at the April meeting, but with no in-person meeting this year, those presentations were made available on the DNR website for each county. DNR big game section chief Bob Nack told the NRB that, on average, there were 350 views of a biologist’s presentation in each county. Marinette County had the most with 907.

I hope to see this format continue into the future for many reasons. First of all, hunters and other stakeholders can go through presentations from nearby counties to see what the deer biologists there recommend. Rather than having to attend several meetings in other counties to get that information, it is all right there in one spot, ready to be digested on our own timelines. I think that is important. Obviously, a deer has no clue it just crossed from Vilas to Oneida County of vice versa, but it could be managed different in either county. So, to be able to look at that and make an informed decision based on more than one county, I think is vey beneficial.

I would venture to guess, also, that more people picked up the phone and listened in on the CDAC meetings than attend them in person. I have sat in the auditorium at James Williams Middle School in Rhinelander for CDAC meetings with as few as two other people. Again, I hope the option to join by phone sticks around as well. I truly believe more people got involved that way, although I do not have solid numbers to make that feeling a fact.

I do not think anyone can say enough about the online feedback option. The online survey form provided almost four times the feedback as it did last year. With that said, however, that also makes doing the “right” thing, as far as what hunters and other stakeholders would find most socially acceptable, more difficult. Not only that, but it may not line up with what science tells us about the deer herd. And, too, some of that science, it could be argued, is imperfect anyway.

The NRB was charged with attempting to look at not only what the public and the CDACs wanted or recommended for deer herd populations, but also the input they received and what the department felt was necessary or prudent. That makes for a lot of stones being thrown from all directions, but the board did their best to do what they felt was in the best interest of the deer herd and all stakeholders involved. That meant, at times, they went against a recommendation from a CDAC. 

In two counties in particular, Grant and Marquette, the department and the board felt the herd objectives were not being met, Marquette’s objective was to decrease populations and in Grant it was to maintain populations. The conversation was specific to the holiday hunt and whether that option should still be in play for this year’s hunt in those counties. While these hunts historically account for up to 10% of harvest, it was felt, although CDACs recommended against it, these hunts should take place this year to be more in line with the original objective.

There was some concern, however, in going against what a CDAC originally recommended. There were many heated discussions throughout the meeting, which I will cover in more detail in next week’s Outdoors section. 

My main point is I want people to know these decisions are not entered into lightly. A lot of thought and a lot of research and work goes into the things the NRB recommends. At times, that does not align with the work and research the CDACs compile. If my opinion matters, I would say neither group is likely wrong, but simply have a different way of approaching the problem or getting their point across.

“We want to work with CDACs, but we have the regulatory demand to manage our deer herd,” Nack told the board. The department, too, came back with some recommendations that were not exactly in line with CDAC recommendations. This still did not sit well with some on the board, and I understand why. I also do not propose to be a subject matter expert, so I will refrain from my opinion on who is more “right,” if you will. 

One of the feelings that surfaced throughout the discussion was how the NRB and the department could better work with CDACs, to perhaps give them other tools, or to make the thoughts and recommendations of all groups align somewhat better. Chairman Dr. Fred Prehn said he felt there was a disconnect there and would love the opportunity to work on viable solutions.

There was a big discussion about public land and how many felt deer herds on public land, especially in the northern part of the state, had been decimated. Chairman Prehn spoke to the matter saying in years past, before private and public land was managed separately, hunters who would normally hunt on their own private land would head to public land to shoot their antlerless deer because they wanted to keep the deer on their own land. This information was his own experience, and anecdotal at best, but it was well received by the board. All were concerned about public land herds and how they should be managed. 

“There’s a huge disparity of deer populations on public land versus private land,” said board member Greg Kazmierski. “It’s a big part of our responsibility to manage deer on public land so that there are deer.”

There was also some contentious debate among board members, with DNR secretary Preston Cole weighing in as well, regarding how and when amendments to motions should be made and what information needed to be provided to the board prior to those amendments being voted on. It came to be when Kazmierski put forth a large amendment to the recommendations. His full recommendations can be viewed on the DNR website under the agenda for June’s NRB meeting, but the amendment to the motion on the floor included a 50% reduction in public land permits for Oneida County as well as a 50% reduction in quota for Vilas County with a 60% private, 40% public land split in that reduction. 

While motions are amended on a regular basis, board member Marcy West spoke out to say she felt the amendment was created much earlier by Kazmierski and should have been disseminated to the board for their review long before the morning of the meeting. Board member Bill Smith also felt he would have liked more time to review the amendment. 

Secretary Cole expressed his concern, too, with how the amendment was presented, but chairman Prehn countered his argument, stating amendments were made by board members on a regular basis and voted on without delay. He did say, however, the board could table the amendment if there was sufficient time to do so. 

“We’ve adjusted quotas for years,” Kazmierski said. “All of a sudden we’re not going to adjust quotas?”

Nack stated, due to the timeline for creating regulation pamphlets and other things that went into creating the season framework, the board would have to have a special meeting in July to accomplish that, and even that would make it difficult. In the end, the motion was made to pass the antlerless quotas with two amendments, including the reduction in antlerless quotas north of Highway 64.

Prehn also had concerns about sending emails with amendments to the entire board prior to the meeting and what that may bring about in the way of violating walking quorums and open meetings records law.

I will get more directly to the “guts” of the meeting next week, but my goal with this column was to show that a lot does truly go into managing the state’s wildlife. And, for many, it is a thankless job, but one to which they dedicate a great deal of time and effort. Board members, as well as CDAC members, are available for feedback, and take public feedback seriously. 

All of the NRB meetings are available on the DNR website for anyone to view whenever they so choose, which I think is another great tool for stakeholders. Often  we hear the decisions that come about, but are never privy to how those conclusions were reached. The NRB webcasts are a great tool to that end. While we may still not agree on the outcome, we can at least see where the discussion went and how those decisions came to be. I would encourage everyone to take a rainy day and watch an NRB meeting from the DNR website. All of the agendas are available there as well and the videos are indexed so viewers can skip ahead to the matter of interest to them and bypass anything about which they have no concern. 

Beckie Gaskill may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]


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