A doe is released after being fitted with a radio collar as part of a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources project using a helicopter to capture and tag deer in Shawano and Rusk Counties. / William Glasheen/Gannett Wisconsin Media
Wisconsin officials annually set deer population goals based on input from the public, proposals from state wildlife managers and the Natural Resources Board, and then those figures are reviewed by the Legislature. Those population goals are designed to produce a balance of:
♦ A healthy herd
♦ A healthy ecosystem
♦ Few crop-damage complaints
♦ Sufficient hunting opportunities.
— Wisconsin DNR
A six-digit number will affect thousands of people and animals, and influence the spending of millions of dollars across Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
The number — the population goal for the state’s deer herd — is set each spring.
The state Department of Natural Resources follows a months-long process to arrive at a recommendation, which ultimately must be approved by the state Assembly’s Fish and Wildlife Committee. The final number is a target for the size of the herd through the winter, but also helps determine the deer population throughout the year.
Experts estimate that deer hunting means $1.4 billion annually to Wisconsin, from the money taken in by the Northwoods motels, restaurants and retailers that cater to hunters, to losses to the farmers in southwestern Wisconsin whose crops are damaged by the deer, and many other stakeholders.
“The department has to look at the whole statewide picture” DNR spokesman Robert Manwell said.
His agency’s works to produce “a healthy herd, a healthy ecosystem, few damage complaints and good hunting opportunities.” And he says DNR is succeeding at that goal.
The target size for Wisconsin’s deer herd is a combination of population goals for about 140 subdivisions of the state, called “deer-management units.” For the winter of 2010, the state set the number at 794,172, or roughly 14.6 deer per square mile.
Once the number is set, the debate begins.
One hunter might conclude the population is too low because he or she didn’t get a deer, but a motorist might decide the herd is too big because he or she hit one with his car.
A photographer who can’t snap a good wildlife picture might decide there are too few animals. But one of the more than 40,000 Wisconsin farmers might disagree, especially if he suffered some of the $15 million in annual deer-related damage to the corn crop.
And a hunter in the Northwoods might care little about efforts to limit the spread of deadly Chronic Wasting Disease, which is believed to be confined to animals the southern part of the state.
The number of deer harvested during the 2009 gun-deer season dropped to the lowest mark in 16 years, fueling criticism of the DNR’s deer herd management policies.
“I certainly don’t have much confidence in the DNR,” said Loren Voss, a 62-year-old Fond du Lac hunter who says he sees fewer and fewer deer in the woods each year, which prompted him to write to his local newspaper complaining about the DNR. “They’ve totally devastated the herd.”
Assembly Fish and Wildlife Committee member Scott Gundersen, R-Waterford, argued that the target size of the state’s deer population should be higher, calling the current figure “a slap in the face” to hunters who had seen the harvest during the 2009 gun-deer season fall roughly 30 percent in a year.
Contact Doug Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org.