Controversial deer management study criticizes DNR methods, calls for greater public input
Post by Emily Mills on 7/11/2012 10:00am
Wisconsin should stop establishing specific population goals for deer herds, take more input from the Tribes and the general public, and should allow landowners to hold site-specific hunts on their property, according to a newly released report.
The current formula relied upon by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists to set population goals and hunting limits for white tail deer in the state is unreliable, according to the study, which suggests a “simplified goal statement of increase, stabilize or decrease population density.”
The report also criticizes the DNR for having an “ineffective” program to combat Chronic Wasting Disease, and takes hunters to task for wanting a deer herd too large for the land to sustain it.
The controversial report on the state’s deer hunting policies was released quietly via the Department of Administration website on Tuesday. Gov. Scott Walker called for the study during his 2010 campaign and in October of 2011 the DOA hired Dr. James C. Kroll to head the project in the capacity of “Deer Trustee.”
Kroll, a researcher from Texas otherwise known as “Dr. Deer,” brought on Drs. David Guynn and Gary Alt to round out the study committee, both men who’ve worked extensively with deer herd management plans in other states.
“This is a reset button," Kroll said of his recommendations. "If we're going to continue to have the hunting heritage in Wisconsin, we're going to have to do this.”
Walker released a statement calling on the DNR to act on those recommendations, writing that “The input incorporated into this report from hunters and conservationists will help us restore trust in the DNR's ability to enhance Wisconsin's hunting heritage as we move forward with implementation.”
A preliminary report released by Kroll in the spring was highly critical of the DNR for what he saw as poor management of CWD and of being out of touch with the deer hunting community. Public confidence in the department has been “seriously eroded” over the years, it said.
The new study strikes a somewhat more conciliatory tone, stating, “…we are in no way questioning the dedication, effort or commitment to deer management by the WDNR staff. We found these folks to be helpful and generous, in spite of undergoing such an intensive evaluation; we are grateful for their help.”
Kroll came under significant scrutiny when he was hired for past remarks made to a Texas magazine where he called for greater privatization of game hunting lands. The new report makes no direct mention of privatization of currently public lands, though it does call for statewide use of deer management assistance programs.
Such programs would be aimed at helping local, private landowners better manage deer herds on their property, including gaining access to antlerless tags.
The new report has already garnered praise and criticism. Daniel Schmidt, editor of Deer & Deer Hunting, cut to the chase: “After reviewing [Kroll’s] 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.”
Schmidt points out that the report is critical of the DNR’s population estimates, but based only on public mistrust of the numbers. The authors concede that the department’s audits did accurately reflect conditions in the wild, and offers no solutions or changes to the process other than to call for scrapping it.
The report also recommends increasing the cost of antlerless tags to $12 statewide and instituting fees for doe tags in CWD zones. The suggestion is that offering free or cheap tags “devalues” the deer.
Perhaps the most contentious and urgent focus of the study related to how the state deals with CWD. The report recommends taking a more “passive” approach to combating the fatal disease, treating it like battling a wildfire by creating fire breaks to stop the spread instead of focusing on trying to eliminate it from herds in already hot zones.
The DNR, though the agency most affected by the report and any actions the Walker Administration chooses to take based on it, apparently had little input during the process. While Kroll submitted the report on June 27 Walker chose not to release it until Tuesday to give the administration time to read it and to avoid conflict with the July 4 holiday. No advanced copy was given to the DNR.
Tom Hauge, who heads the agency’s wildlife management programs, told the Chippewa Herald last week that, “other than a daylong meeting in November, DNR deer specialists have been little involved with Kroll during his study. He said Kroll did have an hour-long conference call a week ago with agency biologists to speak about the final draft of the report.
“The DNR is footing the bill for the study, even though it was requested by Walker and is being overseen by the DOA. Hauge said the $125,000 is coming from hunting and angling license fees collected by the agency. He said the DNR forwarded $60,000 of the fee to the Department of Administration in January and just last week signed off on another $66,185 payment to Kroll.”
Photo by stoneystone68 on Flickr, Creative Commons license.
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at