Deer management plan meeting

The first of 12 public engagement meetings about Minnesota’s first ever statewide Deer Management Plan took place Tuesday evening, Jan. 31 in Thief River Falls at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The Deer Management Plan is expected to provide the state with a “big picture” plan for deer management in Minnesota. That plan is expected to describe Minnesota DNR’s responsibilities and efforts related to deer and deer management, defining goals, objectives and strategies to direct deer management into the future.
The impetus to create a deer management plan came about from an evaluation from the State Auditor last May. Deer management not only offers recreational opportunities, but economic opportunities as well. An early press release from the DNR noted that when people think about deer management, hunting often comes to mind, but management must also take into consideration a wide variety of perspectives. The release also noted that habitat management, hunting, research and monitoring are several primary tools used to manage the deer population.
An outline for a deer management plan was presented to those who attended the meeting. The “draft plan” was presented in order to generate discussion and conversations.
There were seven topics in the plan – 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; and Funding for deer management.
Those attending the event broke into smaller discussion groups and used the outline as a guide.
Immediately, participants at the meeting noted the wide geographic differences in Minnesota. Not only are there statewide variations, but regional and local variations, as well. A farmer noted that within his township, deer will congregate in some areas, but not others. That difference is even more pronounced during winter months. He suggested smaller zones and a split deer hunting season. Several concluded that a one-size fits all statewide plan would not work.
Another suggested that the DNR provide incentives for landowners to plant food plots. Another stated that taking land out of CRP had reduced habitat for wildlife, especially during winter months.
Predation was another concern for many at the meeting. Some suggested that it should be a major topic for discussion and a separate heading in the plan, but others said it should be a sub-heading under “deer population management.”
Discussions about what a healthy habitat looks like also took place. One asked what were the impacts of improving habitat too much in one area? Another noted that a healthy habitat is key to deer population and key to attracting more people, particularly youth, to the sport.
With the outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease in southern Minnesota, some wanted information about disease transmission, and wondered whether improving habitat too much or allowing the deer herds to grow too much would result in the spread of disease.
Many noted that the last time a public meeting on deer management occurred was about 11 years ago. They suggested that yearly meetings would be an improvement. They also called for improved communication.
Another individual expressed a concern about a 10-year plan. Such a plan would have to be very flexible and adjustable as deer populations and conditions change year by year. DNR officials noted that the plan would be more about providing goals and decision-making values and policies.
Another individual said he really didn’t want to see anything change. He said he has the ideal situation now, and asked why they wanted to “mess it up.” Another individual rephrased the comment by saying what he meant was that the DNR hasn’t managed the deer herd on his land, he and his neighbors have. He said the landowner believes that should be part of the solution.
Another individual wondered if there was a way to create an opportunity for higher age-class deer, which provide better genetics and trophies for hunters who would rather harvest a trophy-class deer. That led to more discussions about the spread of disease.
Another individual noted that without funding, all these efforts and plans mean very little.
The comments of those in attendance were collected for an advisory committee to review for possible inclusion in the plan. Individuals may still comment on the plan. They can submit their comments by sending an email to DeerPlan.DNR@state.
mn.us; or writing to Adam Murkowski, Deer Plan, 500 Lafayette Rd., Saint Paul, MN 55155. Individuals may also fill out an online questionnaire at www.mndnr.gov/DeerPlan.
At the conclusion of the evening, John Williams, northwest regional director for the DNR, asked those attending the meeting to support a funding initiative in the Legislature. He said it’s critical that happens. He provided examples where the DNR was short-staffed and added that in some situations it’s very difficult to do anything more than answer the phone and respond to depredation calls. Without resources, it’s impossible to implement any of the programs and expand on any of the opportunities discussed at the meeting that night.
More information about the planning process and the committee is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/deerplan.
In addition to the meeting in Thief River Falls, other meetings were scheduled at: Alexandria on Feb. 1; Andover on Feb. 9; Bemidji on Feb. 1; Cambridge Feb. 16; Duluth, Feb. 22; Mankato March 2; Montevideo on Feb. 27; Mountain Iron on Feb. 23; Rochester on Feb. 6; and Windom on Feb. 28.
(A short video of the event in Thief River Falls can be found at www.trftimes.com)

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