The rift is widening between the Department of Natural Resources and the state’s largest deer hunters organization over the DNR’s deer population goal-setting methods.

The DNR is reviewing whitetail population goals in 40 permit areas in the northeast, north-central and east-central regions of the state. Citizen advisory teams were formed and met in February and March — part a of three-year process begun last year by the DNR to review deer populations in all 128 permit areas.

Ten days ago the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) criticized the DNR’s refusal to accept recommendations from the advisory groups, calling for greater than 50 percent increases in deer populations in some permit areas where whitetail numbers are very low. MDHA Executive Director Craig Engwall, in a letter to the DNR, also questioned the agency’s requirement that the group recommendations come with 80 percent supermajorities.

Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader, responded Monday in a letter to the MDHA, defending the goal-setting process and declining to redo the advisory team recommendations. She said the population goals are for the next three to five years.

“We believe the options provided gave the teams the latitude to recommend realistic, moderate-to-significant levels of population change over the time period under consideration,” she wrote.

She also said the agency would consider all input, “including individual recommendations for population increases exceeding 50 percent.” Added McInenly: “We are committed to productive, meaningful public participation and continuous improvement of our processes.”

Engwall wasn’t satisfied.

“It was not responsive to our letter at all,” he said. “We really feel our voice is not being heard. It’s frustrating.”

Engwall fired off another letter Monday to McInenly and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We are significantly disappointed in how the goal-setting process has evolved,” he wrote.

The written exchanges between the DNR and the deer hunters group are posted on the MDHA’s website, www.mndeerhunters.com.

Meanwhile, Wednesday is the last day the DNR is accepting public comments on the recommendations. To comment, go to the DNR’s website at http://tinyurl.com/kacrrfv.