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Local deer council is cautiously optimistic

After two years of near record low deer harvest numbers in Douglas County, there is a glimmer of hope for the 2016 deer season.

“The population would appear to have made a little uptick,” said Greg Kessler, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. “Nothing tremendous, no leaps and bounds, but a turn in the right direction.”

Members of the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council discussed the status of the herd Wednesday when they met to set preliminary quotas for the 2016 deer season.

Council chair Al Horvath took a cautiously optimistic view. The deer population in northern Wisconsin remains low, he said, but the balmy 2015-16 winter should nudge it back in the right direction.

“We’ve had probably one of the best winters ever,” Horvath said. “If we’d have caught another winter like 2013, we’d be scratching in the dirt here.”

The Wisconsin DNR released current winter severity index (WSI) data earlier this week. The WIS is calculated by adding the number of days with a snow depth of at least 18 inches to the number of days when the minimum temperature fell below zero degrees. A rating of 50 or less is considered mild.

Through the end of February, the weather station in Brule reported a WSI rating of 22, while the station in Minong reported 23 and Pattison reported 21.

Currently, the 2015-16 winter is on record as one of the five mildest in the past 35 years, Kessler said.

Based upon past historical responses of the herd following such winters, Douglas County could see up to a 25 percent increase in the buck harvest in 2016.

“The model has been pretty accurate in the past, but it’s not perfect,” Kessler said.

If the prediction proves correct, Douglas County’s total buck harvest would be about 2,500. The total has been below 2,000 the past two seasons.

“It’ll make (hunters) happier, but it won’t make them happy,” Kessler said. “Even if we go that full 500 increase, it’s not all the way to where we were. Their goal locally here is to get to that 3,500 range.”

Despite the predicted increase in the deer population, members of Douglas County Deer Advisory Council were unanimous in their decision remain with a conservative deer season structure.

In their preliminary recommendation for the 2016 deer season, they voted 7-0 to set the antlerless quota at zero for Douglas County. In the Superior Metro Subunit, members voted to issue 200 permits. The split will be the same as last year: 150 permits for public land and 50 for private land.

“I don’t think we’re at where we need to be to start a heavier or a more serious doe harvest,” Horvath said. “I think it was pretty obvious what we needed to do.”

Mark Schroeder, who represents forestry concerns on the committee, said he may eventually be the voice of dissent. When the herd becomes large enough that deer browsing begins to harm tree regeneration, he may push for a reduction.

At this point, however, Schroeder said he has seen no significant change in tree regeneration. Issuing antlerless permits too soon would be a mistake, he said.

“We don’t want to get into a feast or famine pattern,” he said.

Public comments on the recommendations will be accepted April 4-17.

On April 20, the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council will review feedback and make a final quota recommendation for the 2016 deer season. That meeting will be held 6-8 p.m. at the Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Ave.

NOTES: Two new members were welcomed to the committee Wednesday. Jonathon Brostowitz will serve as the new transportation advisor, and Christine Ostern will speak for agriculture interests. Brittany Berrens, who previously filled the tourism seat on the committee, resigned her position after accepting a new job.

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