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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

It’s Time for DNR to Reclaim Deer Program

Let’s hope Wisconsin’s seven-citizen Natural Resources Board realizes its folly after the hunting community trounced the Board’s deer-season overhaul at the statewide spring hearings.

Board Chair Frederick Prehn and vice chair Greg Kazmierski must concede they’ve been living in an alternative deer hunting reality. As chief authors of the Board’s six do-nothing proposals, they should realize their ideas never tackled the real-world woes dogging our deer woods.

The Board could have spared themselves that statewide humiliation by asking an obvious question: How would less crossbow hunting and two- or five-day “No Hunting” closures before November’s gun-deer season boost license sales, fight chronic wasting disease, expand herd-control strategies, and simplify Kaz’s ever-changing puzzle of county-by-county regulations?

Given such lust for irrelevant, science-free tampering, it’s past time the other five NRB members start serving Wisconsin’s citizens. That means scrutinizing everything Kaz suggests on deer. Their routine 7-0 votes supporting his nonsense must end.

They shouldn’t have needed that spring hearings’ reality check. Kaz’s past nine years on the Board verified the ineptitude that state conservation leaders long saw in him. His fellow NRB members probably weren’t tuned in from the mid-1980s through 2010, and Kaz surely didn’t put it on his resume, but here’s that appraisal: Kaz was just another grumpy deer hunter with a phone, computer and misinformation until Gov. Scott Walker put him on the Board in 2011.

And they shouldn’t be surprised Kaz got so far with so little. As Charles Darwin wrote 150 years ago, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Too harsh? Then ask Kaz to name one idea of his that expanded deer hunting opportunities, improved our understanding of CWD, or solved a deer-management problem the past decade.

Instead, Kaz ended mid-October’s four-day antlerless gun-hunts after 2011, backed legislative efforts to kill earn-a-buck regulations in 2011, eliminated the holiday deer season’s either-sex option after 2013, fought increased crossbow hunting at every turn, ignored public input when implementing his version of the Deer Trustee Report plan in 2014, eliminated the holiday hunt entirely in 2015, brought the holiday hunt back as a county-by-county option in 2016, sat idle when lawmakers eliminated deer carcass tags in 2017, and ignored the DTR by shutting down comprehensive CWD testing in areas with new outbreaks.

The Board should be ashamed they turned such an anti-hunting, anti-science agenda into official Department of Natural Resources policy. That includes DNR Secretary Preston Cole, who served on the Board throughout Kaz’s tenure, and played nice in those 7-0 decisions.

To see the impact of Kaz’s ever-spinning, seat-of-the-pants deer policies, read the recently released recommendations for this year’s deer seasons. The final plan, approved through a two-month review process by our 72 citizen-based County Deer Advisory Committees, embodies the old saying, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

Assuming the Board approves the recommendations, we’ll have 32 counties with a holiday antlerless-only hunt, and 26 counties with the mostly ignored January archery/crossbow season. Further, Wisconsin’s southern two-thirds will be awash in free antlerless-only tags of varying quantity. Sixteen counties will give one free antlerless tag with each deer license, 24 counties will give two, 11 counties will give three, three counties will give four; and one county, Door, will give five.

As usual, no county chose the “nuclear option” for controlling its deer herd: season-long antlerless-only hunting for all weapon types. St. Croix County’s CDAC backed off after initially choosing that option in March.

Ever since creating the CDACs in 2014, Kaz, the Board and DNR administrators have consistently ignored the committees’ pleas for better herd-reduction tactics. They could at least restore the mid-October antlerless hunts, and offer buck hunting in December’s two antlerless-only gun seasons to lure more hunters into the woods.

But we’ve seen this playbook before. For over 16 years after CWD’s discovery in 2002, the DNR and its Board wouldn’t even help hunters remove potentially CWD-tainted deer carcasses from the landscape. Instead, Cazenovia resident Doug Duren and some friends had to shame the DNR into providing dumpsters for deer carcasses by first using their own money and public donations for a 2018 pilot program.

And now Duren is elbowing them again, this time with two modest proposals from Richland County’s CDAC, of which he’s a member:

— If a hunter kills an antlerless deer that tests positive for CWD, the DNR would reward them with a replacement either-sex tag.

— When a hunter submits an antlerless deer for CWD testing, the DNR would reward them with a bonus buck tag, no matter the test results.

The DNR currently replaces only the type of tag used on the CWD-positive deer.

Duren said he’s baffled why the DNR and its Board aren’t offering new ideas while sticking with a full-season antlerless-only option that no CDAC has imposed the past seven years.

“Our CDAC is frustrated with the lack of ‘tools’ we have to manage our deer herd,” Duren said. “We’re getting exhausted fighting these (expletive) windmills. I’ve spoken informally to at least 40-plus deer hunters about our ideas, and no one objects; even those who oppose earn-a-buck. The ‘reward’ tags would be good for the current and following seasons.”

Perhaps we should also ask the Board and Secretary Cole if the DNR’s “new era” of deer management, which began in 2014, is already over. After all, on Jan. 22, Prehn told Cole he wants the agency to craft a 5-year plan to boost deer hunting’s value to Wisconsin.

Prehn gave Cole these orders: “Be bold in your analytics and how you digest deer numbers. Tell us what needs fixing. We want the DNR to weigh in. You’re the experts.”

But rather than start over, Cole and the Board should dust off the final reports filed in August 2013 by about 50 citizens working in four teams to put the Deer Trustee Report into action. Those folks did their jobs, but then Kaz torpedoed their advice and crafted a far different DTR plan, which the DNR and its Board blessed.

It’s time the agency and Board rewrote that cowardly history.

Wisconsin citizens like Cazenovia’s Doug Duren, center, are once again providing new ideas for the DNR and its governing board to follow.Patrick Durkin photo

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