The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is starting to hatch the state’s first deer plan ever — a statewide wildlife initiative welcomed by whitetail hunters who have been frustrated by a crash in deer numbers Up North.
DNR Big Game Program Leader Adam Murkowski will be meeting in mid-December with a citizens’ committee assigned to begin the plan by early 2018. Throughout much of that time, Murkowski will be holding meetings around Minnesota seeking public input.
With the kickoff soon approaching, he sat for an interview this week with the Star Tribune.
Q: What’s the goal?
A: To perpetuate deer for purposes relevant not only to deer hunters but to conservation organizations, motorists, foresters, public health officials, farmers, tribal members and the general public. We want a big-picture plan with a long-term view.
Q: Will the plan deliver a statewide harvest objective?
A: Yes, for the first time we’ll set a statewide harvest goal. Deer hunters want the herd to be managed to a population size that offers ample harvest opportunities. This will stimulate a lot of conversations, including discussions about protecting and creating habitat. Not just woodlands, but grasslands too. In this respect, the deer plan could benefit other species.
Q: What’s another big deal for the plan?
A: A healthy deer herd. That goes to the top of the list. Habitat also is huge in this regard. We want to involve private landowners because that’s 76.5 percent of everything.
Q: What about public health?
A: Lyme disease and other illnesses borne from deer ticks are potential issues for the deer plan. When it comes to risk factors, there’s overlap with certain invasive plant species like buckthorn and prickly ash. Those environments are friendly to ticks. Should the plan include a long-term strategy to reduce these invasives? It’s one of the topics we hope will spark diverse participation.
Q: Deer hunters and the state auditor have ripped the DNR for lack of openness in deer management. Will this be addressed?
A: Yes. The plan will outline the strategic direction and guiding principles for deer management. It also will describe the DNR’s responsibilities and activities for public communication and involvement.
Q: What sort of thing won’t be decided in the deer plan?
A: This is an opportunity to think big and for the long term. The plan will consider regional variations in deer management goals and actions, but it won’t consider more isolated concerns such as crossbow usage. We also don’t want our plan to copy the plan of another state. We have a big, diverse state and the deer plan shouldn’t conflict with other wildlife and land conservation plans.
Q: Tell us about the Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee.
A: This will be a diverse, core group of citizens with knowledge and interest in deer. Its job will be to develop Deer Plan recommendations for the DNR’s Section of Wildlife. The committee will include up to 20 members and they will listen to public input, review technical information from DNR, and work with other citizens to come up with a vision.
Q: Who’s on the committee?
A: We’re still adding five to seven “at-large’’ members, but the group will consist of two people from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and one person each from Quality Deer Management Association, Bluffland Whitetails Association, Women Hunting and Fishing in all Seasons, Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Farmers Union, The 1854 Treaty Authority, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Forest Resources Partnership, Minnesota Association of County Land Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy and the state Department of Health.
Q: Why not Brooks Johnson of Minnesota Bowhunters Inc.? His concerns helped spur the audit of DNR practices.
A: DNR met with Minnesota Bowhunters in August to gain its perspectives. Although the invited seats have been filled, we have encouraged the group’s board and members to apply for an “at large’’ seat, to be picked by mid-November. There’s a large number of organizations that we hope will be engaged even if they don’t have a committee seat.
Q: What’s the biggest immediate challenge?
A: Engaging the public. We’ve got to spend a lot of time and energy to make this Deer Plan relevant. We’re talking about creating the vision for deer management over the next 10-25 years. We’re in the idea phase now and people across the entire state should feel like they have a stake in deer. It’s the most visible big-game species we have. We need ideas and feedback and we want as many people as possible to participate.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213