Boundary recommendations approved at last week's sparsely-attended County Deer Advisory Council meeting in Superior indicated bigger is not necessarily better.
The council's preliminary recommendation was to split the current county-wide Deer Management Unit into three to better account for the diverse habitats, snow effects, predator levels and public versus private land mix in Douglas County.
They also recommended increasing the county's deer population over the next three years, either as a whole or in the separate units. The only exception was a recommendation to maintain the current deer population in the metro subunit that surrounds the city of Superior.
Three years ago, Douglas County's management unit were lumped together into a single countywide unit as part of a statewide move.
The "bigger is better" initiative came out of Dr. James Kroll's 2012 deer trustee report and was one of his key recommendations, said Greg Kessler, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
Larger tracts are easier to manage and provide a better data pool, he said, but it may not be a one-size-fits-all option.
"The first thing I've heard every CDAC meeting since is that it doesn't account for variables," Kessler said.
In habitat alone, Douglas County encompasses forests, bogs, swamps and sandy soils. Added to the mix are lake-effect snow in the north and a number of active wolf packs.
"When you have habitat that is so broken up by different soil and forest types as Douglas County is, it becomes hard to manage the entire unit as one," said CDAC chairman Al Horvath. "A highly productive area next to a very low production area shouldn't have the same antlerless quota to deal with. One may need high antlerless harvest, and the other could conceivably require no antlerless harvest. One may have very limited public access and high deer densities, and the other a large amount of public access areas which end up being over-hunted and result in low deer densities."
"We hope to address these disparities and managing them by consolidating areas of high productivity and similar soil types together, managing poor quality areas separately, and in allowing areas which are struggling to rebuild their deer herds to have a chance to do so," Horvath said.
The recommendation would combine former management units 1 and 2 together and pair former units 8 and 9 in a single unit. Management unit 4 would stand alone; the city subunit would remain.
Mike Miller of South Range, one of a dozen audience members, asked if the decision to split the unit would be a hard sell.
The outcome, he was told, is uncertain.
Public input on the preliminary recommendations will be taken this month, with a final recommendation being made by the council Oct. 4. It will then be reviewed by the Deer Committee before passing into the hands of the Natural Resources Board for a December decision.
But council members said it was worth pursuing.
"The deer committee is a gift of the state," said council member Tom Johnson, and they would not be doing that gift justice if they didn't really examine the county's needs.
Splitting Douglas County into smaller DMUs, he said, would allow them able to manage those diversities individually.
The preliminary recommendations struck a chord with new member Patti McDermott, who represented the tourism stakeholders.
"What you're saying echoes what I'm hearing from businesses in southern Douglas County," she said. "They would love to have this, numbers unique to each area."
Other new council members include Mark Hager from the Douglas County Forestry Department and Kevin Schmid, who represents the transportation stakeholder group.
The council also discussed the impact of wolves in Douglas County and the dampening effect online deer registration has had on local businesses.
The public comment period on CDAC recommendations runs Sept. 11 to Sept. 22, according to the DNR website. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search CDAC to comment, get contact information for Douglas County council members and review recommendations.