DULUTH - A new Minnesota deer management plan, long-awaited by many deer hunters, is due out early this week from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The plan, if ultimately adopted, will guide deer management strategies and communication between the agency and its deer-hunting public.
The draft plan is a culmination of 12 public input sessions held around the state and a dozen meetings between DNR wildlife officials and a 20-member citizens' Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee over the past year.
"We'll have to see what the draft plan is and how public input will influence it, but I'm counting on it to make some positive changes," said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and a member of the advisory committee.
During their year-long slate of meetings, advisory committee members tackled often-divisive topics that included deer population goal-setting, deer feeding, chronic wasting disease, deer farms, forestry practices, deer-moose interaction, and DNR accountability to hunters.
As soon as the DNR's draft plan is unveiled this week, the agency will announce details of a four-week public comment period, said Leslie McInenly, DNR acting wildlife populations manager.
"What you'll see in this plan is increased emphasis on relationships with stakeholders at multiple levels," McInenly said. "We'll lay out a structure to let people know when they can provide input and how they can get information. We'll have more communication about how we're making our decisions."
The impetus for creating a new deer management plan came in May 2016, after a review of DNR deer management by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor. The auditor determined that the DNR's deer management was sound but called upon the agency to develop a formal deer management plan.
The audit was prompted in part by hunter dissatisfaction with low deer harvests after a period of record and near-record harvests in the early to mid-2000s.
The legislative audit suggested the DNR broaden the kind of information it considers in setting deer population goals. The audit also recommended that the DNR should improve its statistical methodologies and deer modeling data and incorporate that into a formal deer plan. At the same time, MDHA had been pushing for more accountability from the DNR in managing deer.
"One of the key components is having more hunter input annually, so when (the DNR) is making decisions about, say, issuing antlerless deer permits, hunters will have the ability to opine about that," Engwall said.
"You hear a lot about transparency and accountability," the DNR's McInenly said. "We got that message the past number of years. People are wanting more information."
Dan Butler of Cohasset, a deer hunter and at-large member of the citizens' advisory committee, expressed frustration with the DNR's response to issues raised during advisory committee meetings. He said he feels that DNR officials didn't respond to concerns of northern Minnesota deer hunters, especially about the setting of antlerless permit quotas and the need for more timber harvest to benefit deer.
"At the end of the day, I don't think the deer plan addresses many of the issues that northern Minnesota hunters have presented to the DNR," Butler said. "I think the DNR needs to start listening to the hunters, and unfortunately I don't think that took place."