Wis. Senate leader demands DNR fire deer experts
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A powerful state senator called Thursday for wildlife officials to fire anyone involved with deer management after hunters killed the fewest deer in years during Wisconsin’s traditional November hunt.
Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said the Department of Natural Resources’ has draconian herd-control policies that have devastated the deer population, leaving hunters empty-handed. The experts who designed the regulations deserve to lose their jobs, he said.
“They’ve earned what they got coming. They’ve screwed us over too many years in a row now,” Decker told The Associated Press. “They got what they wanted. They wanted a decimated deer herd. I don’t think anybody trusts them anymore.”
DNR officials rejected Decker’s demand.
“We know there is hunter frustration, but the suggestion to fire staff is not a constructive proposal,” DNR Secretary Matt Frank said in a statement.
Wisconsin’s November deer hunt is as much a part of the state’s culture and image as cows, cheese and the Green Bay Packers. Hunters constantly complain about the DNR’s deer regulations, but Decker’s statements reflect a new level of anger over two years of anemic hunts.
At the heart of the issue are the DNR’s herd-control policies.
For much of the last decade the agency insisted Wisconsin’s herd had grown too large, creating more car-deer crashes and jeopardizing forest growth.
The DNR has imposed several herd-control measures, including multiple hunting seasons, more antlerless deer tags and earn-a-buck regulations, which require hunters to kill an antlerless deer before they can take a buck. The idea was to kill more does and cut the herd’s reproductive potential, but hunters dislike the requirements because it forces them to pass up trophy bucks.
Between 2004 and 2007, the November hunt netted anywhere from 320,000 to 350,000 deer. Last year that dipped drastically, to 2 85,240 deer.
The agency still estimated about a million deer roamed the state in February, about 300,000 over its target goal. But hunters insisted fewer deer were in the woods, and state lawmakers backed them up.
Bowing to pressure, the DNR this spring cut back on antlerless tags and suspended earn-a-buck rules across much of the state. But hunters killed even fewer deer over the nine-day November hunt - 195,650, according to preliminary figures - and now they say the herd is too thin.
DNR officials have acknowledged the population appears to have decreased. But they say it’s due as much to harsh winters and wet conditions this fall - which prevented farmers from harvesting corn, giving deer more cover - as their regulations.
Plus deer populations vary from locale to locale, they said. One area may be under goal while another may be over goal, they said.
Wisconsin isn’t alone. The deer kill in several Midwestern states appears down so far this year. But Decker still called the DNR’s explanations “horse hockey.”
He told the AP his group of 14 hunters in Lincoln County would spend days in the woods without seeing anything.
Decker insisted earn-a-buck, early season hunts and wolves have destroyed the herd in central and northern Wisconsin. He urged the DNR’s Frank or the Natural Resources Board, which sets agency policy, to sack the big game management team.
Natural Resources Board Chairwoman Christine Thomas didn’t immediately return messages Thursday.
Ed Harvey is chairman of the Conservation Congress, an influential group of sportsmen who advise the DNR. He said firing the DNR’s deer management team and replacing them with “greenhorns right out of college” isn’t the answer.
The agency should improve its population estimates, involve the public in setting population goals and keep earn-a-buck off the table.
“We’ve got an issue here,” he said, “that’s larger than just firing some people.”