The first meeting of the Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee, organized by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in response to the legislative auditor’s report on the agency’s deer management, was held Tuesday in St. Paul.
The committee comprises 20 members, excluding DNR staff,a plurality of whom say they hunt deer. Whether this means they don orange clothing once a year for a few days, or are passionate and knowledgeable about deer and deer hunting, is unknown.
The committee likely will meet monthly throughout much of 2017 before issuing a report the agency has said it might adapt, ignore or do some of each.
Whether the effort proves worthwhile depends on committee members’ understanding of deer management in Minnesota; their willingness to engage the DNR critically about present and alternative management methods; and their resistance (or not) to being rendered comatose by the committee’s burdensome size and proclivity of DNR staff to long-winded.
To that end, committee members should:
• Read Leonard Lee Rue’s seminal book, “The Deer of North America,’’ to achieve an information baseline about the animal whose management is in question.
• Read closely the audit report, which made a) specific recommendations how to improve deer management here. Conversely, the report b) said nothing about forming a citizens committee to advise the DNR. Of these, only (b) has been acted upon. Ask why.
• Require that DNR staff present a foundation of deer management information to the committee, including a) a presentation on the structure and reasoning of current deer hunting seasons and their effects on deer populations here. Also b) the structure and reasoning of the DNR’s deer “modeling’’ methodology, by which it estimates deer numbers.
• Ask DNR deer managers and researchers to explain their current hunting-season management methodologies, and alternatives, and effects, real and projected, on deer of each. Examples: What if antler point restrictions like those in the southeast were expanded to other parts of the state? What if antlerless (doe) permits were used in conjunction with buck-protection methods to alter the sex and age ratio of deer? Also: Given that Minnesota has at least four major biomes — southeast hardwoods; farmlands; transition zone, and northern forest — should it also have four deer management (and hunting) zones, with individualized regulations? And: What would be an expected result if deer hunting seasons were moved out of the peak rutting period?
Upshot: The committee’s opportunity to understand and challenge Minnesota deer management requires a foundation of relevant information, critically assessed, that members should seek themselves and, as necessary, demand of the DNR. Without it, the outcome of this group is foretold, wheels a-spinning, and the DNR knows it.