The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 30, 2014

Cross: Focusing on future of Minnesota's deer herd


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Minnesota deer hunters are never short of opinions.

Put a bunch of them in the same room, ask them how the state’s deer herd is doing, and you’re sure to get an earful of divergent views.

But that was the point Thursday as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invited stakeholders to a deer listening session at the Nicollet Conservation Club. The meeting, co-hosted by the agency and the Bend of the River Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, was one of several held in recent weeks at locations around the state to glean comments, questions and opinions about deer and hunting.

Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife Chief Paul Telander, along with regional and area DNR wildlife managers, explained deer management strategies to the 60 hunters who attended the meeting.

Deer populations are determined by two main factors. The one that can’t be controlled or adjusted is the weather. Severe winters like this year’s can be tough on deer herds. But the main source of deer mortality is hunting, particularly the firearms season.

By adjusting the number of of antlerless permits available each fall, the DNR can manage deer populations.

When measured by annual harvest levels, Minnesota deer hunting in the last two decades has been as good as ever, maybe even the best it’s been. Most notably, some of the highest deer harvests on record occurred just 10 years ago, thanks to liberal numbers of antlerless permits.

But according to the DNR, such harvest levels were unsustainable.

From 2005-2007, the DNR began gleaning opinions from public stakeholders about the deer population levels and used that input to determine population goals. In the case of the southeast, a Population Goal Committee recruited from a cross-section of stakeholders was used to determine population goals.

Those goals were adjusted for some areas of the state in 2012. The result was fewer antlerless permits and subsequently, reduced hunter success.

The DNR will be reassessing population goals now through 2016. Notable is that in addition to relying on public comment, more Population Goal Committees will be formed in other permit areas to reassess deer management goals.

Understandably, hunters want to see more deer in the countryside. But it’s not that simple.

Orchard owners, motorists, insurance companies and farmers frequently hold a different view of just how many deer ought to be calling Minnesota home.

The challenge, explained DNR officials, is balancing the two. Setting deer population goals is as much a social issue as biological.

Deer hunters might be pleased to know that in Permit Area 291, which includes the Mankato area, deer populations were at goal levels last year.

However, depending on where you have hunting access, you might have doubted that. Understandably, deer congregate in the best habitat.

“Permit Area 291 is a bit of a dichotomy when it comes to habitat,” explained DNR area wildlife manager Joe Stangel. “We have some areas that are very good habitat — Swan Lake, along the Minnesota River and its tributaries.”

It’s a different story once you get out of the valleys, and the countryside is dominated by cultivated fields. Permit Area 292 directly to the east, which includes the Owatonna area and lakes region, also was at goal levels in 2013, albeit just barely.

Jeanine Vorland, the area wildlife manager in that area, said that the diverse mix of woodlands, lakes and agriculture are prime habitat, but that the severe winter of 2010-11 on the heels of an unusually successful hunting season has kept the numbers down.

She said that a larger threat to future hunter success in that area may be the increasing urbanization of the countryside that will limit the places to hunt.

“Access may become more of a problem than deer numbers,” she said. “People moving to the country is good for deer. They like to live in people’s backyards.”

Comments from the audience covered a wide range of topics, including Antler Point Restriction regulations, season lengths and dates and habitat concerns.

The comments, which were compiled on a laptop computer as they were received, will be reviewed as part of the on-going process of assessing future deer management plans.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at (507) 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

If you can't go Written comments on Minnesota's deer management plans still can be made by going to the DNR website at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us and clicking on "Deer Listening Sessions." Comments also are being taken by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association at www.mndeerhunters.com and clicking on "Legislation," then scrolling down to "Deer Listening Session. Persons interested in serving on the Deer Population Goal Committees that will soon be forming can contact either group.