Minnesota has management plans for moose, wolves, pheasants and ducks, but no similar plan for whitetails.
At the urging of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, state Department of Natural Resources officials have agreed to develop a deer management plan, which will include a harvest goal.
“We’d like them to manage to a harvest level of 225,000 per year by 2019,’’ said Craig Engwall, MDHA executive director. “We didn’t just dream that up. The 15-year average is about 220,000. We think that is sustainable.’’
The DNR told Engwall last week that it would tackle a deer management plan.
“We thought it would be a useful thing to do,’’ said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. “We wouldn’t use it to manage deer population; we don’t manage deer at a statewide level,’’ he said. Instead, the agency manages deer in each of 128 deer permit zones.
“But the plan would explain how and why we manage deer,’’ Boggess said. “That would be a good thing.’’
He said work on a deer plan likely wouldn’t begin until next year because the DNR is in the midst of deer population goal setting for a large swath of the state.
Setting a harvest target is doable, Boggess said, with the understanding that there would be fluctuations above and below the target, depending on conditions, such as severe winters.
“They [deer hunters] would like to see less fluctuations, and so would we,’’ Boggess said.
Deer harvest averaged nearly 241,000 per year from 2000 to 2009, when the agency was trying to reduce the whitetail herd. Officials have said that level of harvest isn’t sustainable.
The issue is more complicated than simply maximizing hunting opportunities.
“We’re trying to provide deer for hunting, but also recognizing too many deer create issues for farmers or foresters or other land managers,’’ Boggess said. “So that’s why we try to bring all those interests into the goal-setting process.’’
Engwall said his group also wanted assurances the DNR would issue regulations for a conservative harvest in 2015, to boost the deer herd, something DNR officials already have suggested they planned to do.
At the Legislature
Meanwhile, legislators have called DNR officials to the Capitol twice in the last month to explain the agency’s deer management policies in light of last year’s deer harvest. And some lawmakers, who clearly are getting an earful from their constituents, have turned up the heat in their criticism of the DNR.
“We have a huge problem that needs to be addressed,’’ Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, told DNR officials at a House committee hearing he called last month. “I stood in a stand for five days and didn’t see a doe in the woods. And I hunt where there used to be a lot of deer.’’
Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said the deer population is so low in northern Minnesota it probably has hurt the economy and deer license sales.
“I’ve talked to a number of people who used to hunt up there who have quit,’’ he said. “There are no deer.’’
DNR officials appeared again Monday at the Senate Environment and Energy Subcommittee on Fish and Wildlife.
“We agree the deer harvest the past few years has been unacceptably low and there’s room to grow the deer population,’’ Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager, told the subcommittee. Last year’s lower harvest and the relatively mild winter this season should help the population.
“We are poised to see a rebound,’’ he said.
He noted that buck harvest was down 22 percent in the Series 100 permit areas in northeastern Minnesota, but dropped just 1 percent in the Series 200 regions and was up 8 percent in the Series 300 region of the southeast.
Another Deer Classic
About 6,000 hunters are expected at the 33rd annual Minnesota Deer Classic in Blaine.
It’s the third year the event is at Blaine after the National Sports Center bought the show from founder Hugh Price. That transition has worked smoothly, said Barclay Kruse, chief communications officer for the center. The event has changed a bit from when Price held it at the State Fairgrounds.
“It’s smaller than it was in its heyday,’’ Kruse said. “We think it’s settling in at a good size for our facility.’’ Some 65 vendors will be on hand, he said. Officials are hoping for good weather to boost attendance.