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Douglas County council recommends increasing deer herd

The management of Wisconsin’s deer herd has been a touchy issue recently, but that wasn’t the case at Tuesday’s meeting of the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council.

“Right now there’s a pretty clear consensus on this committee,” said Mark Schroeder, who represents the forestry stakeholders on the council.

The group met Tuesday to make its final recommendation for a three-year deer population goal objective in Douglas County.

The five committee members in attendance voted unanimously to increase the deer population in Douglas County and to maintain the population in the Superior Metro Subunit.

The committee’s recommendation now goes to the Natural Resources Board, which makes the final determination on population objectives.

Wildlife biologist Greg Kessler, who acted as a Department of Natural Resources liaison at the meeting, said most people see it as “no-brainer” to increase northern Wisconsin’s deer population.

All but four counties in the Northern Forest Zone made preliminary recommendations to increase the herd. Washburn, Vilas, Oconto and Florence voted to maintain the population.

The 2014 nine-day buck harvest was down 18 percent overall in northern counties. Douglas County saw a 24 percent dip.

“The decrease in the buck kill was very predictable,” Kessler said.

The 2014 gun buck harvest was near a 40-year low, Kessler said, but given a mild winter the deer population could rebound quickly.

“We have seen this population double in two years, so we could double this population in a shorter period of time,” he said. “But there’s a lot of things that have to line up for that.”

The key factor — a moderate winter — is beyond the DNR’s control.

 

Survey results

After local deer advisory councils voted on preliminary population goals in late October, the DNR launched an online survey to gather public feedback.

Douglas County received 177 responses, the second-highest total in the state. Washburn led all counties with 183 responses.

Almost 78 percent of Douglas County respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the committee’s recommendation to increase the herd locally.

“There was a clear majority that agreed with the preliminary recommendation to increase the population objective for Douglas County,” Kessler said.

But survey participants were not convinced the DNR could successfully regrow the herd.

Only 68 percent said the public’s satisfaction with deer numbers would increase as a result of the new population goals. About 12 percent said there would be no change, and roughly the same percentage predicted a decrease in satisfaction. The remaining 7 percent of respondents said they were unsure of the potential impact.

Tom Johnson, vice chair of the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council, said he hopes the public realizes three years of conservative hunting will not return deer numbers to what they were.

“What this is is a starting point,” Johnson said.

Survey responses varied widely, but Kessler was surprised to find a small segment of Douglas County landowners who thought the deer population was acceptable or, in some cases, too high.

“They were offended that they, as taxpaying landowners, could not buy antlerless permits,” Kessler said. “That really surprised me.”

A more common complaint was the impact of predators on the deer population.

Wolf and black bear numbers were the primary gripe.

“There’s a lot of concern whether the herd at this level can really, truly recover with the number of predators out there,” Kessler said. “That came across very clearly in the survey we did online and in the comments here tonight.”

Nearly three-fourths of online survey respondents for Douglas County left additional comments. Wolves were mentioned specifically in 40 percent of the responses, and bears were mentioned in 19 percent.

Kessler said a DNR wolf survey will be put online early next year, and he encouraged those at the meeting to submit their opinions once the survey becomes available.

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