The DNR essentially capitulated to dissatisfied deer hunters on Monday, announcing it would re-evaluate whitetail population goals in 23 permit areas in southwestern and northern Minnesota.
"Hunter dissatisfaction has increased as deer numbers have decreased to meet established goals," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife programs manager. "In fact, hunters are even expressing disappointment in certain areas where deer populations have increased to meet goals."
As a result, he said, population goals will be revisited.
Which doesn't mean hunters who want to see more deer necessarily will. As in the past, the goal-setting process will take into account not only hunters' wishes, but landowner and "other societal and resource interests.''
When the DNR last set population goals, about half the state's permit areas were due for reductions, while about 40 percent were slated for increases. Most of the latter were in western and southern Minnesota.
The DNR says that nearly 70 percent of deer populations are within goal, while 15 percent remain below goal and 18 percent are above goal.
But many hunters strongly disagree. They say deer numbers in many parts of the state are drastically reduced, in part because of too-liberal bag limits, and in part because of tough recent winters.
Some of these hunters say the DNR listened too intently to parties wanting deer population cutbacks, and that previously organized stakeholder groups weren't representative of many hunters and their concerns.
Stakeholder input groups in the southwest and portions of northern Minnesota will be organized to begin the latest process. One red flag for hunters: The DNR says it will use the same stakeholder groups it used in the previous goal-setting process, if possible.
In time, the DNR will also take public comments on its website.
Forest health, crop depredation, deer-vehicle collisions and other factors will be considered, in addition to hunters' wishes, the DNR said.
The entire statewide reassessment process will take more than one year. It will begin by focusing on the following permit areas: 118, 119, 171, 173, 176-179, 181, 199, 234, 237, 238, 250, 252, 279, 286, 288, 289, and 294-296.
In the rest of the state where deer are at or below goal, DNR will set regulations for the fall of 2012 that will maintain or increase populations until the statewide goal review process is completed.
Overseeing the process will be acting big game program leader Erik Thorson, whose appointment also was announced Monday.
Thorson follows in the footsteps of Lou Cornicelli, who now is the DNR's wildlife section research manager.
In addition to managing the population review, Thorson will oversee the state's elk and moose programs.
According to the DNR:
Thorson began his DNR career in 2001 as a private lands specialist. He served as Park Rapids area assistant wildlife manager from 2001-2006. He has served as a regional forest wildlife coordinator for about six years.
Thorson will work out of the DNR's Park Rapids office.
Thorson has been a member of the DNR's Deer Management Committee since 2005. He led the DNR's deer goal-setting process for north-central Minnesota in 2006. He coordinated Chronic Wasting Disease sampling efforts in the DNR's Northwest Region in 2004, and has assisted with Bovine Tuberculosis control and sampling in northwestern Minnesota.
The appointment is scheduled to end after the agency selects a permanent big game coordinator, which is anticipated to occur later this spring.
Thorson earned a bachelor's degree in fisheries and wildlife and an MS in wildlife conservation from the University of Minnesota.