The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released its first draft of the deer management plan earlier this month. Now it is the public's turn to voice their opinions on the plan.
The DNR has more than 35 meetings scheduled across the state to let any interested parties have their say on the deer plan. One of those came at the Glenwood Area Wildlife Office on April 19 as 22 people gathered for a two-hour-long open house session led by DNR staff.
"I think it's always a good idea to listen to what people think," Glenwood Area Wildlife Manager Kevin Kotts said. "Some of these folks I have talked to a couple times. It's not always easy to listen. You may somewhat disagree, but it's good to hear what they think."
The meetings are open to hunters and non-hunters alike, but deer hunters tend to be the ones who show up in force. They did make up the majority of the participants in Glenwood, but there were representatives from the farming community who also attended.
"I encouraged a few of those guys to come so it's not just the deer hunter side of things," Kotts said. "They hunt but they also have to make a living in an area with high deer numbers."
Kotts said their message coming from areas of high deer densities was to figure out a way to get a higher anterless harvest. That is also something some hunters wanted at the meeting.
Brad Kollman bow hunts around the Glenwood area and says his game camera surveys show a population that features about 4.5 does for every buck.
"We see a lot of does and fawns," Kollman said. "We're in an area that has a lot of deer. What we don't see is a rut. The age structure of the bucks is young. We see on our property about a dozen year-and-a-half-old bucks during the hunting season. We see probably four or five 2.5-year-olds and there's going to be a couple 3.5-year-olds and maybe one older than that."
The deer-management plan set a harvest goal of 200,000 that it will use as a guideline to help manage things into the future. Kollman and others at the meeting in Glenwood voiced that they would like to see the plan address the quality of the deer herd as much as it focuses on the overall numbers in the herd.
"Buck-to-doe ratios," Kotts said. "The plan looks like it pretty much talks about population versus ratios, at least what I saw. Our notes will reflect that we talked a lot about buck-to-doe ratios."
Groups like the Quality Deer Management Association have looked at close doe-to-buck ratios and how that helps lead to a healthier herd. Notably, more does tend to be bred during their first estrous cycle in November, leading to more fawns being dropped at the same time, which helps more of them avoid predators and get to a size that has them ready to face Minnesota's winters.
"We have deer who are getting bred in November, December and January," Kollman said. "The fawns are spread out with a great size difference."
Kotts said how the DNR estimates deer numbers was a big talking point at the Glenwood meeting. Better communication between the DNR and those interested in deer is a big part of the deer management plan. Many hunters continue to say they want more input when it comes to how the agency estimates the herd through things like surveys.
"I hope that they really do want the input," Kollman said. "I think they don't have the resources to gather all the information themselves and they need to rely on the hunters and the farmers and anybody who is outdoors and sees the herd. There's a lot of valuable information here if they want to listen to it and take our input."
Management decisions like the number of tags issued will still be broken down into individual permit areas. Hunters have noted how big of a difference there can be in available habitat and deer numbers even within those individual zones.
"Our permit areas for the most part have fairly similar habitat, but every once in a while we run into a permit area where there is an area with really good habitat and the rest of the permit area is not as good," Kotts said. "That means you're managing for the average, but you may be under-harvesting in some areas."
Public comments on the new deer management plan will be accepted online through May 9 at mndnr.gov/deerplan. Kotts said he welcomes these kinds of listening sessions going forward as a part of having the better communication that many want.
"I always take it as they care about the resource," Kotts said. "They care about deer, they care about habitat. They may not agree with us 100 percent, but they care about the resource, so I think that's a nice common ground for all of us. When people don't care at all about wildlife or about deer, then we're in trouble."
Deer Management Plan
A full copy of the deer management plan can be seen at www.mndnr.gov/deerplan. The eight major goals of the plan are:
• Communication, information and public involvement: Foster trusting, respectful and effective two-way communication between the DNR and the public regarding deer management.
• Deer "stakeholder" satisfaction: Consider social dimensions of deer management decisions.
• Population management, monitoring and research: Manage deer adaptively, considering both biological and social information in decision-making
• Healthy deer: Support deer herd health by monitoring and addressing disease.
• Healthy habitat: Maintain natural wildlife habitat by protecting, enhancing and restoring habitat and by managing for an appropriate number of deer.
• Impact of deer on other resources: Reduce negative impacts of deer to the land, resources, and other species, including people.
• Deer management funding: Seek sufficient funding and promote cost-effective deer management.
• Deer management actions: Practice and ensure continuous improvement within the DNR's deer management program and supporting activities.