Bucks only season for Douglas County

Douglas County deer hunters may see something this fall they haven't seen in decades -- a bucks-only season. Wildlife biologist Greg Kessler made the season announcement Monday night at the annual Department of Natural Resources and Conservation ...

Douglas County deer hunters may see something this fall they haven’t seen in decades - a bucks-only season.

Wildlife biologist Greg Kessler made the season announcement Monday night at the annual Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Congress spring hearings, held this year in Solon Springs.

Kessler said he can’t remember the last time the DNR set the antlerless quota at zero locally.

“It’s been probably 30 or 40 years,” he said. “We’ve had very low quotas a couple of years, but we haven’t had zero quotas.”

The announcement came as no surprise to the crowd of 92 that showed up for Monday’s meeting. The buck harvest in 2013 was the lowest in Douglas County since 1993. Hunters harvested 838 fewer bucks in 2013 than in 2012.


Lowering expectations further for the 2014 hunt is this year’s brutal winter.

“This will come out as one of the five most severe winters we’ve ever documented,” Kessler said. “There will be a significant impact on the herd.”

Historically, Kessler said he’d expect to see losses of 20 to 40 percent after a winter like this. But early reports from around the area have been encouraging.

Fishermen along the Brule River have reported seeing dozens of live deer and only a handful of dead ones. Other stories Kessler has heard from locals also indicate a fairly healthy deer herd.

“We already had relatively low deer numbers, and maybe that’s one of the reasons they’re doing so well,” Kessler said. “With lower deer numbers there’s more space and food available in the yarding areas. That might contribute to actually having a higher rate survive.”

Tag limits will not be official until the Natural Resources Board approves them in May, but Kessler said a bucks-only season is almost certain for Douglas County.


Rule changes


The crowd in Solon Springs for Monday’s meeting was higher than anticipated.

Only 25 people showed up for last year’s local deer herd status meeting.

The herd status meeting was combined with the DNR’s annual spring hearings this year, and attendance in Douglas County ballooned up to 92 people.

“We did not anticipate even half this number,” Kessler said.

The increased turnout may have been due in part to a number of rule changes spawned by the Deer Trustee Report recommendations.

The most noticeable change in effect for the 2014 season is the redrawing of deer management units. Wisconsin’s previous 134 units were consolidated this year into 72 units aligned to county boundaries.

All of Units 1 and 4 and large portions of Units 2, 8 and 9 are now contained within the Douglas County unit.

The sub-unit encompassing Superior, formerly known as Unit 1M, will be retained as the Superior Metro Subunit. Kessler said he expects 200 to 300 antlerless permits to be offered in the sub-unit.


“We’ve worked long and hard with the city to help alleviate some of their issues with deer,” Kessler said. “We’ve got it to a tolerable level, so we’d kind of like to keep it close to there, give or take.”

Al Horvath of Superior, who was named the 3-year delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress at Monday’s meeting, said he has misgivings about the new unit boundaries.

He served on an advisory committee that helped shape the new rules, but he feels the group’s input was ignored when the new units were created.

“The counties as management units is going to be interesting because you’re going to lose a lot of data that’s been collected over the years,” Horvath said. “They seem to think they can make that up, but it’s going to be a five- to eight-year span before they can replace that data with the county stuff.”

Another concern for Horvath is the diversity of habitat now found within the larger units. Douglas County in particular, he believes, will create problems.

“To manage Unit 4 like you would Unit 8 here - you’ve got scrub jack pine and you’ve got that old boreal forest - it’s totally different habitat and different carrying capacities,” Horvath said. “To me the small parts make it more possible to manage the large.”


Public vs. private


Another rule change that raised eyebrows Monday is a new twist for bonus antlerless tags. The tags are now unit specific and land type specific, meaning hunters must buy a tag for either private land or public land.

“This is a response to public demand that we’ve had for basically over a decade,” Kessler said.

Hunters questioned how to proceed when a deer is shot on public land but runs to private land before dying. Kessler said the situation would be the same as if a deer were shot in one unit but ran to another before dying.

Kessler also told hunters they could purchase both public and private tags if available, but hunters may only purchase one tag per day.

Bonus antlerless tags go on sale Aug. 16 on a first-come, first-serve basis. The tags cost $12 for residents and $20 for nonresidents.


Tundra swan season

Among the matters considered during the Conservation Congress portion of Monday’s meeting was an advisory question on developing a hunting season for tundra swans.


The question sparked controversy statewide because of the close resemblance of tundra swans to trumpeter swans, which were removed from Wisconsin’s endangered list in 2009.

Dave and Jan Conley, of Lake Nebagamon, both spoke against the proposed tundra swan season at the meeting in Solon Springs. Dave Conley said bird-watching is one of the fastest growing activities in the United States. He also highlighted the economic impact of birders across the country.

Horvath said he changed his vote on the question after hearing the Conleys speak.

“I wanted to tell them that because people need to know that they can come and have their opinion honored,” Horvath said. “They can change people’s thoughts by saying, ‘What about the birding industry? What about the people who want to watch birds?’”

Douglas County participants voted against a tundra swan hunting season 49-25. The measure was also rejected statewide, with 48 counties voting against it and 22 voting for it.

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