The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has made its recommendations as it pertains to what should happen with deer populations for zones in northwestern and western Minnesota, and the public has one last chance to voice their opinion on those conclusions.

The Central Hills Prairie Block around Alexandria that includes permit areas 213, 214, 215, 218, 239, 240, 273, 276 and 277 was part of the first year of goal setting by the DNR. The process for the whole state will take four years, with a separate group of blocks addressed annually. Other regions that are focused on this year include Agassiz-Littlefork (101, 103, 105, 108, 110, 111, 114), Northwest Parkland-Prairie (201, 203, 208, 209, 256, 257, 260, 261, 263, 264, 267, 268) and West Central (262, 265, 266, 269, 270, 271, 272, 297) blocks.

In most of the permit areas of the Central Hills Prairie Block, the recommendation the DNR came to was to manage toward decreasing the deer population, in many cases by a lot. In relation to current deer populations, the DNR’s recommendation is to decrease the population significantly (50%) in permit areas 213, 214, 215, 276 and 277.

“The objective would be to manage deer seasons with a goal to reduce the population by 50% over the years,” DNR Big Game Program Leader Barb Keller said. “There will be a mid-point review at five years when we will assess how things are going, based on a number of population, harvest-trend metrics and public feedback, to determine if any changes need to be made.”

The DNR used input from public goal-setting workshops in January and February, work by DNR wildlife biologists, area wildlife managers and hunter and landowner surveys to form the goals for each deer permit area.

The recommended goal for permit areas 218 and 240 is to decrease the population slightly (25%). Permit area 239 is suggested to have the population remain stable, and permit area 273 had the only suggested increase (slightly, 25%) of deer numbers for any of the nine zones in the Central Hills Prairie Block.

The public’s chance to comment

Anyone interested in commenting on the recommendations can do so through an online survey open now through March 30. That can be found at the top of the DNR’s deer populations & goals web page at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/deer/management/population.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.

The public has three main options in the survey to choose from as it pertains to the goals for each deer permit area -- “I can live with the recommendation,” “I cannot live with the recommendation,” and “I don’t have an opinion.”

There is also an opportunity to write additional comments within the survey.

Keller said area wildlife management input was important in determining the goals for permit areas 213, 214, 215, 276 and 277 as it relates to what local staff was hearing from members of the public in regards to the deer population.

“Harvest trends were also informative for assessing current and past population trends,” Keller said. “In all of these areas, managers are reporting increasing complaints of too many deer, and population trends are increasing. Input from the workshops indicated the public who attended were in favor of stabilizing or decreasing the populations. Public input, previous landowner and hunter-attitude survey results, and area managers’ concerns and observations were all discussed with participants at the workshops.”

Keller said that past experience indicates the ability of hunter harvest to keep deer populations within goal range in these areas is a concern.

“While some hunters would prefer to see populations remain stable, managers are hearing growing concern about overabundant deer populations,” she said. “This is why the decision was made to manage for significant decreases. Of course, we’re now in the process of collecting another round of input on these draft goals to assess public sentiment, so there is the possibility they may change before they become final.”

The online survey is the last round of public input for these areas before the DNR sets the population goals for the next 10 years. Final recommendations will be presented to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen for approval.

What changes to hunting regulations might look like

Changes to hunting regulations and other management actions may go into place as early as the fall of 2020, but Keller said that in the short term, hunters are not likely to see significant changes in regulations for the permit areas where the goals are to reduce the population significantly.

Populations were already being managed with the goal to reduce deer numbers and management is already fairly liberal with areas 213, 214 and 215 being intensive-harvest zones that allow a three-deer limit per hunter. Areas 276 and 277, which is part of the Central Minnesota CWD surveillance area, may go up a designation.

“There is the possibility we may employ other tools we have such as an early antlerless season to try to bring deer populations towards goal,” Keller said. “An early antlerless season may also work towards improving the sex ratio in the populations, as many of the hunters we talked to during the workshops expressed a desire to see a higher buck-to-doe ratio.”

Other management tools such as earn-a-buck licenses and buck quotas were talked about during the public workshops this winter. Keller said those types of regulation changes would require another round of public input specifically aimed at those before they could be put in place.

DNR wants to hear people’s thoughts about deer

All Minnesotans who have thoughts about deer populations in their area are invited to call or email their local wildlife manager by Wednesday, April 1.

The Department of Natural Resources had originally scheduled open houses this spring to gather feedback on deer populations, but in accordance with guidance from state health officials, many public events were postponed, adjusted and canceled due to COVID-19 precautions. That included the deer open houses.

The DNR will use the feedback to help make decisions regarding future deer seasons. The phone number for Glenwood Area Wildlife is (320) 634-7337 and the general email address is glenwood.wildlife@state.mn.us.