Thursday, April 30, 2009

WISCONSIN OPINION: Perils of Suspending Earn-A-Buck

Another great column by Pat Durkin. Money quote: "When fishing, we don’t anchor in the same place daily and demand the DNR put walleyes or bluegills under our boats."

Many smart, concerned deer hunters are pleased the Department of Natural Resources suspended Earn-a-Buck rules for two-thirds of Wisconsin, but the DNR can’t expect them to suggest new ways to control deer where they exceed herd goals.

The trouble is, many hunters don’t want to control deer numbers. They want to raise the goals to match the herd’s current size, even though herds in half the state are at least 40 percent higher than goals set in state codes.

Let’s remember these goals aren’t designed to equal last year’s kill or previous record kills. They’re based on biological and sociological factors discussed in public forums, and approved by citizens in the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

If DNR biologists have any professional integrity, they won’t raise the goals to achieve temporary peace. Besides, let’s not forget that herds in roughly 25 percent of the state were below goal last fall, yet we killed 453,480 deer.

Yep, even when handicapping one-fourth of Wisconsin, we killed 0.453 million deer. We must have had lots of deer somewhere, huh? Not only was that the No. 10 kill in state history, it ranks No. 33 in our nation’s history, according to the “2009 Deer Hunters’ Almanac.”

Of the five states on that list, Wisconsin has 10 kills exceeding 453,000 (all since 1995); Michigan, eight; Texas, eight; Pennsylvania, 4; and Alabama, three. Further, only Wisconsin requires hunters to register their kills. The others estimated their kills with surveys, voluntary registration and check-point data.

And yet the Democrat-controlled Legislature held three hearings to force the DNR to abandon its legislative mandate to manage herds in accordance with state code. If legislators have a better system than earn-a-buck, which requires hunters to first shoot a doe or fawn before targeting bucks, let’s hear it.

The fact is, many people don’t like EAB because it works. It shoves the herd closer to state-mandated goals, and it’s only used when lesser efforts fail. By attacking EAB, they ignore bigger problems facing the herd.

Meanwhile, legislators covered for the Conservation Congress, which demands the DNR improve its deer estimates while refusing aid. For instance, a 2006 audit suggested the DNR could improve the estimates by consolidating many of its 130 deer management units and conducting radio-telemetry studies.

Congress Chairman Ed Harvey dismissed the idea. Writing in the August 2008 “Conservation Chronicle,” he said, “We need to be careful about how far we’re willing to go for the sake of more accurate average deer density numbers.”

What about radio-telemetry? At the Congress’s annual hearings in April 2008, voters rejected a $1 deer stamp to fund those studies, 4,097-1,433. End of discussion.

Lawmakers also haven’t focused on areas with deer shortages, maybe because EAB wasn’t used there in 2007 or 2008. Nor did they suggest the DNR assess deer habitat by region, and consider how its declining quality affects predation and winter losses.

That’s puzzling because habitat conservation is the mission driving Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Why emphasize habitat for all those critters and ignore it for deer?

Think about it. When fishing, we don’t anchor in the same place daily and demand the DNR put walleyes or bluegills under our boats. Yet many folks sit in heated towers, watch woodlots mature into pole timber with no underbrush, and blame the DNR when deer find better turf.

And consider Lake Michigan: When its forage base shrank and salmon grew lean, the DNR stocked fewer fish. Yet when weak or injured deer died in central Wisconsin the past two winters when heavy snows put farmers’ plants and spillage out of reach, few blamed the deaths on overbrowsed woodlots. No, they demand the DNR increase deer goals, even though it would further damage habitat and endanger more deer.

If we truly wish our children to enjoy deer hunting far into the future -- a plea we invoke often – we would deem quality habitat as vital to whitetails as clean water is to walleyes.

The Department of Natural Resources has suspended its Earn-A-Buck program and hopes hunters will suggest new ways to control deer when their numbers remain above goals set in state code.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal

No comments: