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Hunters voice their opinions at deer management meeting in Alexandria

DNR big game program leader Adam Murkowski talks to the crowd gathered at the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria for the DNR's public meeting on the statewide deer management plan on Thursday night. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 2
DNR big game program leader Adam Murkowski talks to a crowd of almost 60 people who took part in the public meeting on the DNR's deer management plan at the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria on Thursday night. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 2

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has asked the public to take part in forming a statewide deer management plan, and hunters in Alexandria cooperated on Thursday night.

Almost 60 people gathered at the Broadway Ballroom to discuss what they would like to see from a management plan that the DNR, with the help of a 20-member advisory committee comprised of 13 organization representatives and seven at-large members, hopes to have completed by the end of this year. It was the third of 12 scheduled public meetings around the state, and had the largest turnout thus far after stops in Thief River Falls and Bemidji, according to the department’s big game program leader Adam Murkowski.

“I think the overriding theme that I’ve gotten from these meetings is folks have been very receptive to how we’ve been holding the meetings,” Murkowski said. “We tried to stress to folks that these would be a little different than anything they’ve done deer related and interactions they’ve had with the DNR in the past.”

Participants were broken into smaller groups to discuss their ideas centered around seven broader topics:

  • Healthy deer.

  • Deer population management, monitoring and research.

  • Communication, information dissemination, engagement and accountability.

  • Hunter and non-hunter satisfaction.

  • Healthy habitat.

  • Impacts of deer on other resources.

  • Funding for deer management.

One representative from each small group then got up in front of the room to present the key ideas that they discussed.

“The open communication was awesome, I thought,” Alexandria’s Mark Nohre, Region 7 Director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said. “This was one of the greatest things I’ve seen in a long time as far as the public and the DNR getting together.”

THE NEED TO COMMUNICATE

The discussion was cordial for the most part and ran the gamut from how to deal with chronic wasting disease concerns to ways to create diverse habitats on public land. Some suggested the DNR manage deer as an economic commodity and look to other states on what they are doing to make deer hunting appealing to out-of-state residents.  

Some in attendance got more heated when the topics of transparency on how money is spent in the department and how the organization gets its data were brought up.

“People spend a lot of money on deer hunting,” said Mike Van Beck, a hunter from New Munich in an interview after the meeting. “Where’s that money going? Is it used for deer or other things? At least for me personally, I think there’s a lot of corruptness in publicly run, whether it’s government or DNR, so accountability (is needed) on how they’re spending people’s money. Transparency. ‘We made this decision because of this information and this is why we made it.’ ”

Many hunters at the meeting made it clear that they want a bigger voice in deer management. Murkowski says he hears that often.

“My experiences talking with hunters suggests that they are all very eager to contribute to the betterment of the resource,” Murkowski said. “This is terrific as without this dedication we won’t be able to enhance the resource for future generations. Finding constructive ways for them to contribute is a challenge in the sense that I wish we could put them all to work, but finding ways and doing so has obvious hurdles to overcome.”

The final deer management plan will come after information is collected from not just hunters, but a wide range of stakeholders.

“Hopefully people will understand that,” Henning’s Pat Morstad said. “It’s a plan that’s going to be coming together for everyone. There’s going to be non-hunters in the components of that.”

Morstad is a member of the deer advisory committee and the state chapter president of the Quality Deer Management Association. What he wants from these public meetings and through the forming of the management plan is that the hunter’s voice be heard in the process.

“The association has been pushing the DNR to get a deer plan put into place because of the fact that we didn’t feel like we were being heard,” Morstad said. “Sound management. Science is where it all comes into play and get the DNR to communicate their end of everything. Miscommunication is not a good thing.”

GETTING ACCURATE NUMBERS

Concern over the accuracy of the deer numbers and where the DNR gets that data was a popular topic on Thursday night.

“One of the things that we’re going to be pushing for is making sure we have accurate data collected on a regular basis in many different facets,” Morstad said. “Then to try to be able to manage to those numbers. Right now, they’re able to do flyovers in areas once every 15 years. How do you get accurate numbers from that?”

Many participants at the meeting said hunters should play a more active role in helping the DNR gather those numbers. Some wanted to be involved in more surveys. Others pointed to cell phone technology as a way to use hunters who want to report what they’re seeing in the woods.

“Not everyone is going to be for it, but you could certainly certify say 20 people in each permit area,” Van Beck said. “I guarantee there would be an abundance of people willing to give that data. Maybe go to a couple hour class of, ‘Here’s the information we need.’ I think it would be simple. With technology now days, there’s a lot they could do with getting data from the actual people in the field.”

BETTER AGE STRUCTURE    

The age structure of the deer population was brought up by almost every small group that presented their discussions to the room.

Many in attendance want to see more mature deer, specifically bucks. Nohre says it’s a topic that still tends to split hunters.

“A lot of guys want to see bigger bucks and more bucks, and a lot of people just want to put a deer in the freezer,” Nohre said. “We’d have to get together, look at the numbers, and here we go back to registration and hunter input, and figure out how to manage the herd so that there is more and bigger male deer to harvest.”

Van Beck said in his case, it’s more than just wanting bigger bucks. It’s about balancing the herd. He hunts near the Belgrade area in central Minnesota where he’s only allowed to take one deer. He figures the doe-to-buck ratio where he hunts is almost 10-to-1 in favor of does.

Statewide, DNR harvest numbers for 2015 show that of the 114,062 adult deer taken by firearms, 83,088 of those were bucks (72.8 percent).

“Even if it was 50 percent every year, when you start with a low number of bucks in the herd it’s just a compounding problem,” Van Beck said. “Unless they change party hunting or move the firearms season back or lottery tags for bucks – there’s no way to fix that problem unless you do take some action.”

TYING THINGS TOGETHER

The public meetings across the state are part of gathering input the DNR and the deer advisory committee will use in forming the deer management plan.    

“My end goal is we take all this input and kind of do what we did tonight and brain storm what are those big overriding issues facing the future of deer and deer hunting?” Murkowski said. “Not just what you’re going to see next fall or the fall after, but 20, 30 years down the road. That’s ensuring we have adequate habitat but also that we have healthy deer. Whether you like or dislike anything, we need healthy deer. If we don’t leave those for future generations then our hunting heritage is in serious jeopardy.”

Hunters and non-hunters alike can continue to voice their opinions through March 5 by sending an email to DeerPlan.DNR@state.mn.us, by mailing a letter with attention to Adam Murkowski at 500 Lafayette Rd, St. Paul, MN 55155 or by filling out a questionnaire at www.mndnr.gov/DeerPlan.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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