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Proposed deer browsing study a joke? PDF Print E-mail
By Kurt Krueger

THE AGENCY that believes deer densities shouldn’t exceed 20 deer for every 640 acres in many parts of the North Woods is proposing a 30-year study that starts with 40 deer in an 80-acre enclosure to represent a high-density population.

According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the plan is to fence 900 acres of state land just south of Palmer Lake and create interior enclosures that hold low, moderate and high deer densities.

Each of the enclosures would have varied forest

vegetation that includes areas of no cutting, single-tree cutting, trees with 60-foot gaps, trees with 120-foot gaps and a number of acres clear-cut for early successional forest.

The moderate density study enclosures would have 28 deer in a 90-acre enclosure and the low density pens will have 16 deer in a 120-acre enclosure.

They say the goal is to study how deer impact regeneration of both ground and woody stems in the various vegetative management practices, i.e., the impact of deer browsing or over-browsing on the forest.

One of the appropriate questions for the upcoming meeting in Boulder Junction would be: Who is the joke on, the department or the public? Set the meeting for April 1 so someone can scream “April Fools.”

In the former deer management unit numbered 38, prior to the agency’s recent decision to go with county boundaries and to throw away more than 50 years of management knowledge, the DNR has set an over-winter population goal of 20 deer per square mile. That’s 20 deer per 640 acres, or about 1.2 deer per 40 acres.

Keep in mind that as the management goal, it is where the department wants the herd to be — the ideal population. One of the reasons given for managing the herd to that pathetically low goal is to eliminate over-browsing on white cedar, rare orchids and other vegetative types.

Let’s do the math on this harebrained scheme of a proposal. They call 16 deer in a 120-acre enclosure low density, yet it equates to more than 80 deer per square mile — four times higher than the current population goal in Unit 38. That’s low density for a scientific study?

I hate to be rude, but what mystery could be unveiled by putting 40 deer in an 80-acre enclosure, which is the equivalent to 320 deer in a square mile? High density is hardly the term. How about crazy density? How about a recipe for starving deer?

The phone has been ringing since the story hit the front page. We’ve got readers, some who live near Palmer Lake, questioning the need for another DNR make-work program so they can determine that too many deer in an area results in over-browsing. It’s not a secret.

Starting the study with low-density enclosures that hold a deer concentration more than four times higher than today’s deer herd ensures that over-browsing will occur in every enclosure. And apparently the department needs 30 years to figure that out.

The public also is questioning where the deer will come from and whether the DNR will erect double fencing to ensure that no deer with chronic wasting disease can escape the enclosures, similar to the rules established for private game farms.

There hasn’t been a lot of clamor regarding the loss of deer hunting land. The land in question was privately owned prior to 2009, when the Natural Resources Board voted to purchase it from the Hovel Revocable Trust for $2.09 million. Hence, there haven’t been a lot of years for hunting traditions to develop on that public land.

As one Land O’ Lakes resident put it, the area includes a lot of mature forest and marginal food for deer, which equates to low deer densities. They tell me there isn’t a lot of great hunting there, but then, that’s the case with the deer herd throughout the North Woods thanks to the DNR’s liberal doe-shooting policies.

There are a bunch of reasons why this proposed study should be shot down, not the least of which is spending limited resources to study something the DNR knows enough about. Just look at any private game farm holding fenced deer, and you’ll quickly see what over-browsing does to the forest.

The DNR has been studying the same thing with a deer enclosure at the Sandhill Wildlife Area and for the past three winters, it has had three deer enclosures on private industrial land near Florence. They had to issue damage tags the first winter because of the over-browsing.

But they still find it necessary to propose a new study that is slanted toward over-browsing, and that could have negative impacts on future management decisions and whether we ever see a decent deer herd again.

The scribbler is a broken record on this deer population issue, especially on how easy it would be to solve the problem. More buck-only units and fewer antlerless tags will get the deer herd back in a couple of short years.

Apparently the land can handle 30 or 40 deer per square mile, because the DNR is using the low-density label for a population four times larger.

I see no positive results from such a study. They aren’t going to increase the population goals any time soon, and that’s really the only way to bring back the herd. It fails hunters because without good reason and with an undetermined about of wasted dollars, the study would restrict access to almost 1.5 square miles of land for hunting and other recreation.

The money would be better spent trying to figure out how to keep chronic wasting disease out of the North Woods. At least that expenditure has a chance of helping deer hunters.

But they really don’t have to spend the money at all. It’s our money.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 2:16 PM
Last Updated on Wednesday, April 09, 2014 2:29 PM
 

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