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An unmanaged deer herd might boost deer sightings, but it would soon create political problems as motorists, farmers, foresters, homeowner, and orchard-growers bear the costs. Patrick Durkin/Correspondent
An unmanaged deer herd might boost deer sightings, but it would soon create political problems as motorists, farmers, foresters, homeowner, and orchard-growers bear the costs. Patrick Durkin/Correspondent


If you voted for Gov. Scott Walker in hopes he'll put a six-point buck under every deer stand on opening morning, you'll probably be disappointed in the years ahead.

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Don't take it personally. After all, his campaign pandering to deer hunters last year wasn't as specific or as promissory as Jim Doyle's pledges in 2002 to restore independence to the Department of Natural Resources' secretary.

And please concede that once Gov. Walker had your vote, he didn't promise respect the next morning. Such oversight isn't necessarily evil. It's more the realities of governing overriding the fantasies of campaigning.

Once politicians take office and study issues until dozing off at their desks, they often awake without their beer goggles. That's how hot, simple issues become cold, complex challenges overnight.

In this case, Wisconsin has a deer-management program that evolved over the past 75 years with help from our universities, wildlife professionals and everyday hunters. It didn't just show up when Walker ran for governor in 2010.

Its population goals were reviewed in public and printed in the state's administrative codes. Likewise, regulations for achieving its goals endured endless review and rewrite. And the system's backbone the sex-age-kill formula had been audited, evaluated and re-evaluated by North America's top biologists and biometricians.

That's why prudent administrators know they can't abolish a history-borne, scientifically validated system simply because some folks badmouth it. That's a principle basic to governance. As President John F. Kennedy said, "Don't tear down a fence until you know why it was put up."

Kennedy borrowed that thought from Lord G.K. Chesterton of England, who said the principle distinguishes reformers from deformers. Chesterton wrote that when a deformer sees a fence blocking a road, he says: "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." A reformer refuses, saying: "Go away and think. When you can come back and tell me you see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

The man now studying Wisconsin's deer "fence" is Scott Gunderson, the former assemblyman who serves as deputy assistant to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. Gundy used to ridicule the DNR's deer-management program, and held Capitol hearings that were basically gripe sessions that did more to muddy than clarify issues.

Those easy times are past. Gundy must now think hard about this program, understand its science and balance its goals and obligations for all Wisconsin's residents. It's no longer enough to nod sympathetically as one sub-group blasts the DNR.

Even if "there's no deer," and even if "the DNR doesn't listen," Gundy needs more than self-pity to address Gov. Walker's motto: "Wisconsin is open for business." The governor can't afford a half-baked deer-management plan that lets the herd explode.

If the DNR Gov. Walker's DNR allows that, he'll trade a few unhappy hunters for myriad irate landowners and businessmen. He doesn't want motorists, homeowners, orchard growers, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin County Forests Association and the Wisconsin Council on Forestry to bear the costs of a runaway deer population.

Those folks helped shape our current deer-management system. Abandoning them now, just as deer numbers become manageable, would prove foolish.

And what about chronic wasting disease? Even if we pretend a CWD vaccine is at hand, we can't risk letting deer herds boom. The more deer requiring treatment, the greater the cost of vaccines and the difficulties distributing it.

These are just a few problems Walker and Gundy inherited by politicizing deer management during the campaign. But don't be surprised if they quietly accept our current, codified system and simply tweak it here and there. The worst that would happen is quieter belly-aching from the eternally dissatisfied.

Why quieter? Russ Decker, the only Democrat who demagogued deer sightings, lost his re-election bid. Meanwhile, Walker, Gundy, Sen. Neal Kedzie and other GOP leaders can no longer benefit by making deer an issue. With the DNR under their party's thumb, they must defuse their torpedo.

Gundy can help by delivering on Walker's promise to follow science in managing deer. That's a promise worth fulfilling.

Patrick Durkin is a free-lance writer who covers outdoor recreation for the Press-Gazette. E-mail him at

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