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Scott Rall: Turning the page on deer management

SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

There is something new on the horizon in Minnesota regarding the state’s most hunted animal, the white-tailed deer.

More than 400,000 people case this big game animal in Minnesota, making it rise to a position higher than just a normal hunting season.

Revenue from the sale of deer licenses is substantial. More than $11 million are raised by the sale of the licenses, and the funds are used to manage the state’s deer populations.

Managing deer in the state is no easy task.  Up north you have forests and wolves and moose. High deer densities are hard on moose populations because they carry a brain worm that does not hurt the deer but when ingested by a moose is fatal.  Wolves love to eat deer and moose calves, and managing both of those species becomes a management of wolf predation as well.

For at least 20 years we have been fighting over who should manage wolf populations.  The state wants the job, but the federal courts and lawsuits keep the wolf on the endangered species list, making wolf management impossible.

In the metro areas you have thousands of deer but tons of rules restricting the discharge of guns to harvest them. People love to feed deer and this causes issues, too, as there is a something called chronic wasting disease that passes from deer to deer when they get in close proximity to each other. Deer feeding and deer populations play a role in how the disease is controlled.

In the south you have the farmland region, and deer densities are lower. Much to people’s surprise, there is only about three deer per square mile in the southwest corner of the state. When you see 100 deer all grouped together in the winter months, it could actually be the equivalent of all the deer in an area three miles wide and 10 miles long when they spread out in the spring.

The state had never really had a documented and published state-wide vision of how it manages the state’s deer herd. In the past, area wildlife managers had a pretty big say in how the deer in their area were managed. For he most part, hunters, landowners and insurance companies could never agree on how many deer are enough, and as a result of an audit conducted by the state auditor’s office this situation is about to change.

As a result of the auditor’s findings, the DNR has taken its recommendations and created a state-wide 10-year deer management plan.

The plan is now available in draft form at mndnr.gov/deerplan. The plan is a result of many meetings with many stakeholders from all of the different and diverse groups interested in how many deer the state should have and how they should be managed. The meetings covered population goals, management techniques, social concerns and much more.

One big issue was how the DNR communicated with hunters and others on what and why they do certain things regarding deer management.

Now is the time for you to weigh in.  You can send in your comments online or attend one of the many meetings that are going to be held all over the state in the next few weeks. The location of these meetings can also be found at the web address I mentioned earlier. I started reading the plan, and it is sure like many other government documents.

If you read the executive summary only, you can get a gist of what is inside. Reading the entire plan will take a long evening in the recliner.

The one thing I got from the plan was that there was a harvest target of 200,000 deer annually.  This number then requires deer be at a certain population level to sustain them. If the harvest was, say, 225,000, then deer numbers would need to be kept at a higher population level in order to sustain that level of harvest. I think some hunters were expecting just a little higher annual harvest number.

The one thing I know for sure is that deer management is still hard no matter how you do it or who is in charge. My dad always told me that decisions are made by the people who show up.  The closest meetings to Worthington are in Slayton on April 18th at the Pizza Ranch and in Windom at the Community Center on April 26.  Both of the meetings run from 6-8 pm.

If you care about deer and have an opinion, now is the time to make your voice heard. I will be there and I am not considered an avid deer hunter. I just want to be informed and involved in the process.  You should do the same.

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