ASHWAUBENON — Wisconsin and its hunters need to be better partners in managing the state's deer herd.
That was a common theme Tuesday as sportsmen from around the state met with Whitetail Deer Trustee James Kroll, Gov. Scott Walker and other state wildlife officials in Ashwaubenon to discuss the herd and how it should be managed.
Officials were told several times that the state needs to build trust in the ability of the Department Natural Resources to measure deer population numbers and use them to set policies that will benefit all residents of the state.
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"We have to be able to have confidence in (the DNR's) ability and confidence in their population estimates … we have to bring back that confidence," said Ralph Fritsch of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. "Once that confidence comes back, we're going to have a great state (for) deer hunters again."
Walker hired Kroll in fall to conduct a scientific review of the state's deer-management practices, which have come under fire from hunters and others who say they result in too few chances to see and harvest deer. Kroll and his staff are slated to issue a preliminary report to Walker and the state Legislature in March and a final report three months later.
Kroll, a Texan, told more than a dozen sports enthusiasts at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center that he hopes the state will become "the birthplace of 21st century deer-management" approach that honors "the hunting heritage of Wisconsin" rather than simply generating large harvest numbers.
"We need to have an honest discussion of what you think, what are the problems," Kroll said.
Despite a number of deer harvests in the past decade that rank among the state's most successful in terms of kills per license issued, a number of hunters are dissatisfied with the state's deer-management approach. That culminated in 2009 with 82 percent of hunters surveyed by the DNR rating their satisfaction levels "low" or "very low," following the smallest gun-deer harvest in more than a decade. Harvest numbers have increased since then.
One of Kroll's lieutenants said the state is capable of delivering a deer-management program with which the public can be happy. David Guynn, a Clemson University professor emeritus and member of the Quality Deer Management Association who is working with Kroll, said working in partnership is the key.
"Hunting is about more than killing deer, it's about the quality of the (overall) experience," Guynn said. "We've really got to focus on re-establishing that respect … we can re-establish what you folks love so much. We have all the parts" in place.