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  • Patrick Durkin

Wisconsin's Deer Advisory Committees Need Your Help

I know what Wisconsin deer hunters are thinking: We don’t need March Madness, Major League baseball, or the National Basketball Association to distract us while COVID-19 confines everyone to quarters.


After all, we have the annual County Deer Advisory Council meetings to thrill, entertain and educate us March 30 through April 9. As you might have heard, the 72 CDAC committees can’t convene in person, so the committee members must phone it in this year for the first time since the CDACs’ birth in 2014.


Likewise, guests and spectators can’t drop in to watch, grumble, snipe or cheer. We can, however, eavesdrop on the tele-conferences with our phones or computers as CDAC members discuss our county’s deer herds and the 2020 hunting seasons.


Just visit “dnr.wi.gov,” and type the keyword “CDAC” into its search window. You’ll see a red-lined box with a link (https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/documents/cdac/2020FirstCDACMeetings_WisLine.pdf) that provides the dates, times, phone numbers and access codes for each meeting.


And then gather the spouse and kids around the ol’ smartphone, activate its speaker, and follow along. You might squirm at the edge of your seat, but listen up as your CDAC representatives review the subpar 2019 gun deer season, debate the estimated size of your county’s deer herd, and set preliminary harvest quotas for antlerless deer.


If that’s not enough to delight your impounded family, don’t despair. If you hunt nearly anywhere in Wisconsin’s farm country, your CDAC will likely debate whether to issue two to four free bonus antlerless tags for every licensed deer hunter this fall. And once they settle that, they’ll decide whether to turn us loose with rifles to hunt does and fawns from Christmas Eve day to New Year’s Day, and/or extend the archery seasons through Jan. 31, 2021.


I know what you’re asking: “How can I, Jo or Joe Hunter, maximize my deer hunting buzz while listening in?”


To prepare for your meeting, watch the half-hour video featuring the DNR’s county deer biologist (https://dnrmedia.wi.gov/main/Catalog/Full/d8199cb414f345b99ff34fc59139abfd21). You don’t have to watch all 72 county briefings, of course. Just click on the county or counties you plan to hunt.


And if you want to learn more about deer management than nearly everyone participating in the teleconference, prepare by clicking this link: https://dnrmedia.wi.gov/main/Catalog/Full/3a252b7bba7a4a17913ea29bd2f4790021. You’ll get to watch a detail-rich triple feature for free: a recap of the 2019 deer season, insights into predator impacts on deer, and a tutorial on deer data and other whitetail trivia available online through the DNR.


OK. Enough cheerleading. These spring CDAC meetings are great opportunities for hunters to learn the complexities of managing deer in all 72 Wisconsin counties. Unfortunately, deer hunters learned the past five years that they have little reason to attend CDAC meetings.


Most counties in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin have too many deer, but CDAC members can’t do anything about it. Sure, they can issue free bonus tags, but that’s deer hunting’s version of funny money. The tags lack value and redeemable incentives.


Further, when CDACs in Door, Buffalo and Waupaca counties voted in previous years to force hunters to use those tags by voting for the nuclear option—antlerless-only deer seasons—hunters revolted. The CDACs or DNR soon retracted or rescinded the votes.


The CDACs can’t impose earn-a-buck requirements, of course, the one tactic that worked to reduce deer numbers from 1996 to 2010. The Legislature outlawed it in 2011. The CDACs can’t even approve either-sex seasons during mid-December’s four-day gun-hunt or the nine-day holiday gun-hunt.


Nope. Thanks to our science-denying Legislature and our do-nothing seven-member Natural Resources Board that sets DNR policy, our CDACs are basically state-sanctioned barbershop biologists. They can only talk, read and hear about better ways to manage their county’s deer herds.


The Board even makes that task a chore. Some deer data the Board forces on the CDACs and public only muddle understanding. The worst such wastes of DNR website space are the annual “metrics” on deer-vehicle collisions (https://dnr.wi.gov/wideermetrics/DeerStats.aspx?R=Collision), or DVCs, a pet warehouse of useless information peddled by Board vice chairman Greg Kazmierski.


The DNR’s “Deer Metrics” website provides 12 years of statewide and county-by-county data on DVCs from 2007 through 2018. Much like horoscopes, DVC data are interesting to read but serve no practical use. If you look under an accompanying subhead, “Limitations and precautions,” the DNR wrote nearly 400 words detailing why the numbers mean nothing.


When asked about those many cautions and warnings, DNR deer researcher Dan Storm said DVC data require a “million” caveats. Storm said statewide DVC totals might provide a loose index of Wisconsin’s deer herd over time, but county-specific data lack a “predictable relationship to annual deer numbers.”


One reason DVC data are worthless is because they’re gathered and reported inconsistently and haphazardly by county law-enforcement offices. But even if the data were collected consistently and systematically, Storm said they’d likely remain poor indicators of each county’s herd size.


The DNR website notes: “We have observed a general decline in ALL vehicle accidents over time, not just DVCs. This could be for a host of reasons: safer cars, better roads, more law enforcement, etc. … The bottom line is that these factors could influence changes in DVCs in a way that has nothing to do with deer numbers.”


In effect, the DVC data symbolize the failures of our current deer-management program, and a political system that tolerates amateurish meddling by Board members like Kazmierski. If we dislike wasteful government spending, why do we let Kaz make DNR professionals waste time and resources posting disinformation on a publicly funded website?


Meanwhile, county deer herds keep growing, hunter numbers keep declining, chronic wasting disease keeps spreading, and Kaz keeps blaming crossbows for the apocalypse.


Keep that in mind during the public-comment period April 16-29 (https://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/springhearing.html). And don’t forget to vote on Kaz’s six silly suggestions for deer hunting during the statewide spring hearings April 13-16.


Our CDACs can’t stop these abuses of time, money and natural resources without hunters’ help.

Wisconsin’s 72 County Deer Advisory Committees will meet by teleconference March 30 to April 9. Their efforts are being hampered by misinformation and toothless methods for managing the state’s deer herd. (Patrick Durkin photo)

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