WILLMAR -Willmar was host to one of the first of some 35 open-house meetings to be held across the state on the new deer management plan.
The meeting on Tuesday evening attracted only a dozen citizens to the Minnesota Department of Transportation headquarters in Willmar, where it was held. Department of Natural Resource workers from the area hosting the event answered questions about the plan and the local deer herd in one-on-one conversations with those who attended the meeting.
The issues that tended to be brought up in conversation were familiar. Some would like to see a change in management to allow for more mature bucks. They’d like to see more opportunities for bucks with antlers worthy of putting on the wall.
Some also feel that there should be more balance in the age structure of the herd, and that the doe-to-buck ratio is out of whack. Some feel that hunters are killing too many young bucks.
Informal suggestions to change things ranged from requiring that those who draw an anterless permit harvest a doe in place of a buck, to following the lead of other states and implementing an earn-a-buck requirement in some areas.
The new deer plan does not include any changes in rules aimed at quality management. It maintains existing management efforts that are based on biological and social sciences. It promotes more communication and public engagement opportunities.
Cory Netland, area wildlife manager with the DNR, said the new plan will require that the local wildlife office hold two public meetings each year on deer management plans. The local office has always and will continue to respond to inquiries and input from residents.
The new plan sets a statewide target of harvesting 200,000 deer each year. That’s fewer than the 225,000 target that the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association had sought. The new plan is the product of a 19-member citizen advisory group that worked with the DNR. It included representatives from a wide range of interests.
Netland pointed out that the harvest number is an index. As is the case now, the actual harvest target for each year will depend on the size of the herd. If deer numbers are down, fewer antlerless permits will be available in order to help the herd rebuild.
And of course, deer management strategies will remain targeted to permit areas. Each year’s deer harvest gives local wildlife staff a very good idea of how the herd is doing. The severity of the winter weather, input from hunters, reports of deer depredation, and observations by the staff are other factors that are taken into account when setting harvest goals in a permit area.
In this area, deer numbers north of Highway 12 are very good. Netland noted that the herd was at a low point after the severe winter of 1996-97, but it has been rebuilding ever since. Recent winters have been relatively mild and wildlife populations are generally doing well.
The DNR has information about the deer plan on its website, and an opportunity to offer comments on it at mndnr.gov/deerplan.