DNR aim is satisfied deer hunters, healthy deer herd

As a long-time Minnesota hunter and wildlife manager, Paul Telander has witnessed the ups and downs of Minnesota’s deer population.

As a hunter, he remembers when the season was closed in 1971 because deer numbers were precariously low. As a wildlife manager in northwestern Minnesota, he helped rebuild the herd that eventually led to a record harvest in 2003 of 290,000 deer.

Now as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ wildlife section chief and at a time in Minnesota’s history when the deer population is neither particularly high nor low, Telander answers questions about Minnesota’s deer population.

What is the DNR’s deer management goal?
Our goal is to provide a healthy, sustainable and abundant deer population. In practice, that means having a deer herd that creates satisfied hunters, provides good hunting and minimizes unwanted consequences for wildlife habitat, people and deer themselves. Our management approach factors in habitat and the impacts deer have on it, disease, land management and the desires of all Minnesotans.

Are you meeting with deer hunters about deer population?
Yes. In fact, deer management will be discussed at length at the annual wildlife roundtable, and we’ll be having additional discussions with deer hunters at both the state and local levels. It’s a timely topic.

How would you characterize this past deer hunting season?
The 2013 deer season harvest of 171,000-plus animals is a solid number, but the lowest since 1998 and the third consecutive year of decline. Part of the reason for the decline in harvest the past few years was the restricted harvest of antlerless deer through more lottery areas and fewer intensive and managed deer areas that we have used in an attempt to allow populations to stabilize or rebuild in many parts of the state.

What’s planned for 2014?
We have not yet made decisions on the 2014 deer season, but we have heard the concerns of hunters from many areas of the state and will make adjustments based on sound science and current conditions. We realize last winter was unusually hard on deer in northern Minnesota, resulting in more mortality and reduction in fawn production than expected. This winter’s weather will likely produce more negative effects on both fawn and adult mortality as well as fawn production, especially if bitter cold and deep snow conditions continue into spring.

Does that mean you expect antlerless permit numbers to decline?
Deer harvest results from 2013 and other factors will weigh into our antlerless permit and season structure decisions. Though the harvest analysis will not be complete until spring, it’s likely that antlerless permit numbers will be decreased in certain areas and deer permit area designations designed to reduce harvest will be expanded. This approach will help stabilize or build deer populations where needed.

How did last year’s hunting season compare to others?
Perspective-wise, the 2013 deer harvest was well above the average harvest of the 1980s, just slightly below the average harvest of the 1990s but considerably lower than the average harvest of 2000-2010. The average harvest from 2000-2010 was about 240,000. Those years represent the highest deer harvests in history. The record deer populations that produced those harvests were the source of unwanted problems for people, the land, and deer themselves.

When were deer population goals set?
As you may recall, between 2005 and 2007 the DNR used a public participation process to evaluate and adjust population goals for deer permit areas across the state. During the process, regional stakeholder teams were formed consisting mostly of hunters, but including foresters, farmers, private industry, landowners, conservation organizations, and tribal representatives. Teams met and gave input to the DNR on deer populations and trends. The DNR then solicited additional public input via an online presentation and questionnaire before finalizing the goals.

How were goals set; what was the outcome?
Various factors were considered in setting the goals, including habitat quality and food resources; the recreational, economic and social value of deer in Minnesota; deer vehicle collisions; agricultural damage; browsing impacts on native plant communities and other wildlife species; deer disease and health concerns; and historic deer population and harvest trends. The 2005 process occurred at a time when deer densities in much of the state were at the highest point on record. Most participants agreed the statewide population should be managed downward, and deer population goals were reduced in many deer permit areas.

So you are going to look at deer population goals again?
Yes. Now that goals have been in place for a number of years, we are committed to re-evaluating the goals that resulted from that process. Meantime, we will continue to annually evaluate the impacts of various factors on deer populations and adjust management accordingly. Depending on the effects of this winter and the analysis next spring, management changes that we could consider as early as the 2014 season would include adjustments to antlerless quotas, creating additional lottery or hunter’s choice areas, or even establishing bucks-only permit areas if needed to manage low deer populations.

Where are you in the goal-setting process?
Population goals have already been re-evaluated in southwestern and parts of northern Minnesota using a similar process to that used in 2005-2007. Southeastern Minnesota permit area goals will be re-evaluated in the coming year using a revised process. We anticipate the remainder of the state will be completed in 2015 and 2016.

Anything else?
As I mentioned earlier, our aim is satisfied hunters, good hunting and minimal unwanted consequences for wildlife habitat, people, and deer themselves. That’s the target. We’ are committed to working with hunters and others to hit it.

To hear more about deer management from Paul Telander, visit www.mndnr.gov.

Paul Telander