The Department of Natural Resources gets called to account, for a disappointing deer hunt. State Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) told DNR Secretary Matt Frank Thursday that his office has received over 8400 responses to a survey on the November gun deer hunt.
“We are not only seeing a decreased number of deer, forty percent of the people that took the time to respond to my census, said they’re unsure if they’re even going to buy a licence next year,” said Kedzie, to applause from hunters who turned out for the hearing at the Capitol. “I’ve never heard that kind of a threat before.” Kedzie also said that seventy percent of respondents to the survey were critical of the agency’s management of the deer herd.
In defending his agency, Frank said DNR is charged by the legislature with finding a balance between competing interests: not only deer hunters, but also the state’s agricultural and forestry sectors, even motorists who experience car-deer collisions. “We could deliver to hunters, more deer in the woods, more deer in Wisconsin, if we ignored all of the other requirements that we are bound by law to follow,” he said, adding that it would be up to the legislature to change policy and direct the DNR to manage for higher herd numbers.
Frank and other DNR staffers were called to account by lawmakers in the wake of a November hunt which saw the number of deer killed fall by thirty percent from 2008. Hunters at the legislative hearing scoffed when game manager Keith Warnke announced the agency’s overwinter statewide population goal: 748,300 deer. “A lot of these people in this room are not going to want to hear that, they’re not going to be happy with that,” said state Representative Dan Meyer (R-Eagle River) “They’re going to want to know how you arrived at that number, and think that’s a great number . . . I can just tell you they’re not going to go for that.”
Meyer and other legislators at the hearing on the November gun hunt said many of their constituents have complained not only about not being able to shoot a deer, but also of not seeing any. “These people aren’t here just because they didn’t harvest a deer,” said state Representative Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford). “They’re here because they didn’t see deer.” Two other lawmakers at the hearing said they personally had seen far fewer deer: Representatives Amy Sue Vruwink (D-Milladore) and Louis Molepske (D-Stevens Point) said deer numbers are down in their central Wisconsin districts.
The closest any of the lawmakers came to voicing approval for the DNR’s management came when Representative Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) noted that deer harvests have been trending upward for years despite recent volatility. “I think sometimes we have unreasonable expectations about hunting,” Danou said.
Again and again, the legislators told Frank that deer hunters are losing confidence in the DNR’s ability to manage the herd. Senator Kedzie even came up with a historical analogy: Walter Cronkite saying he didn’t support the Vietnam war any longer, and President Lyndon Johnson’s acknowledgment that the loss of support by the news anchor meant loss of support from the public. “If we lose the Wisconsin deer hunter, you’ve lost the program,” Kedzie told Frank. “You’ve lost the war.”
Bob Hague (1:15) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:15 MP3)