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Council makes preliminary deer recommendations

The Douglas County Deer Advisory Council made its preliminary recommendations Tuesday night for the management of the county’s deer herd.

The council set management goals for the county as a whole and for the Superior Metro Subunit (formerly Unit 1M). The members could choose to increase, decrease or maintain the current population, which will set the direction to manage the deer herd for the next three years.

For the countywide recommendation, the council had little trouble coming to a consensus. Members voted 6-0 to increase the herd in Douglas County.

Al Horvath, council chair, said it’s common knowledge deer numbers are low in northern Wisconsin.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to the numbers we had a few years ago, but we can certainly get to a better place than we’re at now,” he said.

Douglas County hunters took about 1,500 bucks last season during the nine-day hunt, a 30 percent drop from the year before. The total deer harvest of 4,664 was the lowest since 1994 for the county.

Looking ahead to this year’s hunt, DNR wildlife biologist Greg Kessler said buck harvest projections are not good.

“It certainly took a drop last year, and you can all guess where it’s going to go this year,” Kessler said.

The harsh 2014 winter is expected to have a very noticeable impact. It was one of the worst winters on record and topped the DNR’s list for winter severity, with data stretching back to 1982.

“This last year was pretty much off the charts,” Kessler said. “I told Al I’m amazed there’s still a deer standing out there.”

Kessler said hunters should prepare for a lower buck harvest this year and for more lean seasons in years to come as the herd recovers from lower fawn survival rates.

Brittany Berrens, representing the tourism stakeholders on the Douglas County council, said increasing the deer populations is vital for the regional economy.

“Deer hunting is a huge industry,” she said. Statewide, it brings in more than $2 billion a year, but that revenue could be at risk.

“Obviously if you’re frustrated with deer numbers, people who spend thousands of dollars to come up here and don’t get a deer are likely frustrated too,” Berrens said.

Mark Schroeder, who represents forestry stakeholders on the council, said he felt comfortable approving an increase. Deer numbers dropped to an acceptable level for the forestry industry about four years ago, he said, and they have only fallen further since.

When the population rebounds, Schroeder said he “may not be very popular” if he calls for a herd reduction, but he believes foresters and other stakeholders have complementary objectives.

“If the forest is healthy, the deer herd will be healthy,” Schroeder said. “We have a mutual goal together.”

At the city level, the council largely deferred to Joe Maki for guidance. Maki has worked with Superior’s deer advisory committee since 1999 and recommended the population in the Superior Metro Subunit be maintained at the current level.

In areas targeted for deer reduction, population figures have dropped 50 to 90 percent, Maki said.

“In the city the program is working,” he said. Deer-vehicle collisions have dropped substantially, but deer are still present for people to enjoy.

“The tough part is finding a balance,” Maki said.

The council voted unanimously to maintain the current deer levels for the Superior Metro Subunit.

That recommendation, along with the countywide recommendation, will be open for public comment from Nov. 3 to Dec. 5. Comments may be submitted online by visiting www.dnr.wi.gov and searching for “CDAC.”

The county council will discuss public feedback and make a final recommendation at 6 p.m., Dec. 9 at the Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Ave.

Final approval of the management recommendation must be given by the Natural Resources Board, likely at the group’s February meeting.

The local council will then meet again in the spring to set quotas and a season structure for Douglas County. At that time, Horvath said, details of how to implement the three-year recommendation will be hashed out.

The spring meetings will be held annually. The next population objective meeting will not be held until fall 2017.

Tuesday’s meeting was lightly attended. Only a dozen members of the public showed up to offer their feedback, but those who did attend were optimistic.

“If one good thing comes out of this in the next three years, it’s a home run,” said Dan Krisak, of Superior. Hunters have been given a voice in the discussion, he said, and they can make positive changes.

“I think there is hope,” Horvath said. “And I think this is a golden opportunity.”

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