Outdoors / Sports

Deer management program benefits from debate over rules

Wisconsin was humming in the last full week of August.

Schools were opening, vacations were ending, balls were in the air, pads were popping and crops were ripening.

The conservation community was hard at it, too.

The work chariot put on 750 miles so I could take in several meetings, including the DMAP Advisory Committee.

You probably know something about the state's Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) that the Department of Natural Resources kicked off earlier this year. It was among the recommendations of the 2012 Wisconsin White-tailed Deer Trustees Report.

The program provides habitat and herd management assistance for landowners interested in managing their property for wildlife.

Its slogan is "A partnership for healthy deer and healthy habitat."

The program has three levels of enrollment. Level one has no acreage requirement and no annual fee, two is for 160-640 acres and has a $75 fee, and three is for more than 640 acres and costs $150.

Level two and three enrollees receive site visits and consultations with wildlife biologists and foresters.

The initial enrollment period, which ended May 30, drew 114 level two and three applications.

That's a drop in the bucket among the state's deer hunters and landowners.

But it should be noted the program, both in terms of participation and structure, is wet behind the ears.

It is operating under emergency administrative rules; a final rules proposal is expected in 2015.

Until then, the DMAP Advisory Committee will be considering how best to structure the program.

One of the primary reasons DMAP was suggested by the trustees report is to improve the relationship between landowners, hunters and the DNR.

However, if it increases the gap between the haves and haves-not of the deer hunting world, DMAP isn't likely to result in a net positive between license buyers and the DNR.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, represented by Ralph Fritsch of Townsend, offered five suggestions it feels are important for DMAP to be "fair and balanced and consistent with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation."

I feel the federation is worthy of entering into the public debate about DMAP.

For starters, it would prefer DMAP landowners not be allowed to lease deer hunting rights on the property.

Among the issues: If a DMAP landowner can obtain antlerless tags and others in the area can't, the DMAP enrollee could leverage the program to charge higher lease rates.

In coming years, for example, it's possible DMAP enrollees would be able to get antlerless tags in northern counties that are classified as "buck only" for all other hunters.

Second, the WWF would like to see baiting and feeding prohibited on DMAP lands where antlerless tags are issued.

Baiting and feeding draws deer to a property and can concentrate the animals. If adjacent lands -- including public property -- don't have active baiting or feeding, it could limit the opportunities for hunters on surrounding parcels.

The federation also noted baiting and feeding is an inappropriate deer management tool for properties with agricultural or forest habitat damage.

The third suggestion was to prohibit DMAP enrollees from getting antlerless permits in a "buck only" county. Fritsch said it wouldn't be fair to other hunters and likely would result in a backlash against the DNR.

How about transparency? For its fourth suggestion, the WWF would like the DNR to provide a list of DMAP properties that receive antlerless permits.

It would allow hunters to work with DMAP enrollees toward the management goal of the property and to provide recreational opportunity to "average" hunters, Fritsch said.

The issue of antlerless tags also figured into the fifth item suggested by the federation. It would like the number of antlerless tags offered to DMAP landowners to be subtracted from -- rather than added to -- the number available in a county.

"These aren't just numbers, these are real deer that are going to be harvested and it will impact the number of deer in the area," Fritsch said. "This will be a significant issue in areas where hunters want the herd to increase."

The DMAP committee, which is led by DNR wildlife manager Bob Nack and includes representatives of sporting and conservation groups as well as county, state and federal wildlife biologists and foresters, had a healthy debate about all five items.

In the end, it endorsed just one: the ban on baiting and feeding of deer on DMAP lands.

Many of the concerns related to the program are due to the "buck only" designation in all or part of 19 counties this year. It's a time in Wisconsin when the deer herd has dipped in northern Wisconsin.

The committee is advisory-only and any changes would have to be offered by the DNR in the final rules package.

However, it's important to talk about the issues.

The federation deserves credit for airing them now. Nack also deserves a tip of the hat for encouraging a free-flowing debate.

We are probably years from knowing whether DMAP will take hold in the Wisconsin deer hunting culture. The public land component of DMAP hasn't even been introduced -- it is scheduled to start in 2015.

A careful consideration of all the issues -- pro and con -- can only help the program's chances.

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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