Early in July, Dr. James Kroll released his long awaited "Deer Report" to the people of Wisconsin. Kroll, aka: Dr. Deer, is a well-known figure in the deer community and was hired by Governor Scott Walker to fulfill a campaign promise he made to Wisconsin deer hunters upset with how deer were being managed in their state. The report is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the politics involved when a governor goes "outside" to review the work of hundreds of state wildlife workers.
But of more relevance are Kroll's findings and recommendations, which included changing the way the state manages deer. And, while not directly stated, the overarching theme of the report is to get Wisconsin's deer hunters and the professional deer managers of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on the same page.
Toward that end, Kroll and his team dug into their bag of deer management tricks and pulled out a tried and true deer management tool called the "Deer Management Assistance Program" or DMAP. DMAP is the brain child of Dr. David Guynn of Clemson University who first introduced the concept in the early 80's. Since then, DMAPs have been adopted by at least 20 states as an effective tool for improving deer management and involving landowners in the deer management process.
DMAP encourages site-specific deer management by bringing landowners/hunters and professional deer managers together to set harvest goals for a given property. Together they evaluate the property's deer holding capacity, the health of the deer (sex, age, weight, antler development) and some additional criteria, and then decide how many does need to be harvested to achieve the landowner's goals and objectives. This is generally done on an annual basis. Doe tags are issued to that effect and the landowner/hunter attempts to meet the goal. The tags differ from traditional doe tags as they are issued on a site specific basis to a property (or person responsible for a property) not an individual license holder. To be clear, DMAP is not a crop depredation program where crop growers are allowed to kill deer to reduce crop damage
DMAP programs have generally received positive reviews by both the public and the agencies they serve. The public learns more about deer management and agencies learn more about the public. And, they both learn more about the deer they collectively manage. From where I sit, this is a win-win-win (the deer win too) situation.
As many of you know, my son Neil and I manage 500 acres in our home state of NY. We also participate in NY's DMAP program. Each year we are issued additional doe tags to enable us to balance our deer numbers with the available habitat. We don't take this responsibility lightly. We do all we can to keep track of how the deer using our property are impacting it and deciding how many does to harvest. Our goal is to keep things in balance between the deer, their habitat and our hunting enjoyment. Harvest too few and they eat up your property; too many and there is nothing left to hunt. We set our harvest goals sometime around the middle of bow season. This gives us plenty of time to inventory the deer using our property and decide how many to take our numbers up down, or to stay the same.
Frankly, our property management program would be seriously handicapped without this DMAP. We have relatively high deer densities (roughly 75 deer per sq. mile) on our property thanks to 20 years of habitat improvement. We have created a pretty darn good hunting property for all game species and enjoy it immensely. Generally we harvest somewhere between 8-12 (Neil, I and guests) does per season, which keeps our population relatively stable. We couldn't get to this number without having sufficient DMAP permits to get the job done. The standard licensing and application process normally yields 3 or sometimes 4 tags between us and many of our guest hunters show up with tags for management areas other than ours.
Make no mistake; this is all about balancing not just killing. Should a horrible winter, or predator outbreak or a severe overharvest by local crop growers with depredation permits reduce our deer numbers for us, we would gladly keep those doe tags in our pockets. That's what site-specific management is all about. And that's why it is difficult for states to manage hundreds of thousands of acres at one time. Site-specific deer management works, at least for that specific site. It has made us better deer managers and very happy, involved hunters. It also keeps us in touch with our state's wildlife agency.
Contrast that with our neighbors a half mile away. Overpopulations of deer ate up their habitat years ago. They didn't have the knowledge or tools to keep their deer numbers in line with the available habitat. They were seeing 30 deer a day but those 30 deer and a hundred more were gradually eating themselves out of house and home. Not only has their habitat been totally destroyed, but their hunting has suffered. Our neighbors hunt the opener, a day or two more, and call it quits for the season.
To be sure, I'm not saying the answer to Wisconsin's deer issues will be solved by implementing a DMAP program. Indeed, some in Wisconsin are saying "what deer problem?" Others criticize DMAP programs for "favoring private landowners" (even they can be used on public hunting lands). But, when a state is having difficulties managing the deer herd and hunters are unhappy about it, getting hunters and the state together in a "boots on the ground" program seems like a step in the right direction.
Next installment: "Is Your State Using the Same Population Model as Wisconsin?"