Anderson: 'Dr. Deer' mixes skills, self-promotion

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2011 - 10:24 PM

James C. Kroll, the new Wisconsin "Deer Czar," rankles some with his commercial style of deer management.

Popular as beer and the Packers are in Wisconsin, deer and deer management take a back seat to neither. Chasing whitetails in the Badger state, and pontificating before and after the hunt about just how that is best accomplished, is as important as making cheese, grilling brats -- and hating on the Department of Natural Resources.

Arguably, in fact, deer hunters play such a major role in Wisconsin's culture that last year they helped elect Gov. Scott Walker to the statehouse.

In his 2010 campaign, Walker alleged the Wisconsin DNR had messed with the state's whitetail herd so badly that "the deer population has dwindled." He also trumpeted that the DNR had engaged in "political games" with the state's deer and had "put bureaucrats in Madison ahead of the hunters of the state."

If elected, Walker said he would appoint a Wisconsin deer kingpin to "revise our deer counting system."

Had he promised two pickups in every driveway and season tickets at the 50-yard line at Lambeau Field, he wouldn't have gained louder applause.

Now Walker and his DNR secretary (commissioner), Cathy Stepp, have named James C. Kroll of Texas as Wisconsin's new "Deer Czar."

Coincidentally, that appointment on Oct. 3 occurred nearly simultaneously with the announcement in Minnesota that the DNR here will soon name a new whitetail boss.

Lou Cornicelli, who had that position, has been promoted to DNR big game program coordinator, leaving his former position vacant.

Whoever is named to spearhead Minnesota deer management, his or her appointment won't be nearly as headline-grabbing as Kroll's has been in Wisconsin.

So controversial has Kroll's naming been there that a gag order reportedly has been placed on DNR employees to quiet the stir.

Calling himself "Dr. Deer," Kroll in many ways is a whitetail management outsider. A Texan (he holds a Ph. D from Texas A&M), he specializes in private deer management, with an emphasis on big deer.

According to his website, Kroll has "spent 35 years debunking popular misconceptions about America's favorite big game animal -- the white-tailed deer."

His services to Wisconsin won't come cheap. He's being paid $125,000 (about $15,000 more than the Minnesota DNR commissioner makes in a year) for a report due next June on Wisconsin DNR deer management.

A professor of forest wildlife and director of the Institute for White-tailed Deer Management and Research at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, Kroll's credentials are sufficient to earn him virtually any deer management position in North America.

Except that ... many professional deer managers consider his decision to "go commercial" by so often appearing on TV and in the popular press, and by adopting his "Dr. Deer" moniker, belie the more mundane complexities that state deer managers face every day.

Examples:

While hunters might (and do) want more deer, car insurance companies tired of paying for deer-vehicle collisions in Wisconsin, Minnesota and many other states want smaller whitetail herds.

Similarly, many homeowners in expanding urban areas want deer herds thinned to save trees and shrubbery. Ditto environmentalists who believe an overly large whitetail herd all but dooms the regeneration of white pine and other trees in northern forests.

What's more, deer managers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, where deer herds have shown great capacity to adapt and multiply in new and varying landscapes, worry that global warming could encourage larger whitetail numbers precisely while a loss of baby-boomer hunters reduces managers' ability to control those herds.

It's unlikely anyone of Kroll's credentials will be named to lead deer management in Minnesota. But his appointment as Wisconsin's Deer Czar -- so far only a source of great theater -- might in the end benefit whitetail management.

Kroll is far from dumb, after all, and he's likely to endorse more of Wisconsin deer management practices than he criticizes. If that occurs, Kroll's popularity among hunters could help sell his findings to hunters, taking some heat off Wisconsin DNR whitetail managers.

Then again ... nah, that won't happen.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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