DNR re-evaluating its deer population goals

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will 
begin reassessing deer population goals this spring.
From 2005 through 2007 the DNR used an extensive public input process 
to establish deer population goals for all of the state's 
approximately 130 deer permit areas. Now that those goal populations 
have been achieved in most areas, the DNR will use a similar process 
to reevaluate population goals in 23 permit areas in southwestern and 
north-central Minnesota.
"Hunter dissatisfaction has increased as deer numbers have decreased 
to meet established goals," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife programs 
manager. "In fact, hunters are even expressing disappointment in 
certain areas where deer populations have increased to meet goals." As 
a result, he said, the agency wants to revisit population goals in 
order to strike the right balance between hunter, landowner and other 
societal and resource interests.
The last time the DNR set population goals about one-half of the 
state's deer hunting permit areas were slated for deer reductions. 
Conversely, about 40 percent of permit areas were slated for deer 
increases. Most of these areas were in the farmland country of western 
and southern Minnesota. Today, nearly 70 percent of deer populations 
are within goal, while 15 percent remain below goal and 18 percent are 
above goal.
"To a large degree we have achieved what we aimed to do," said 
Merchant. "However, many Minnesota hunters are telling us they are not 
seeing the number of deer they have in the past. So, we intend to 
formally listen to their voices and those of others prior to setting 
2012 deer hunting bag limits." The agency intends to use the new 
population goals as an information tool for making 2012 deer season 
management decisions.
The entire statewide reassessment process will take more than one 
year. Like last time, Merchant said, he expects stakeholders to bring 
forward their concerns about hunter satisfaction, forest health, crop 
depredation, deer-vehicle collisions and more. In the rest of the 
state where deer are at or below goal, DNR will set regulations for 
the fall of 2012 that will maintain or increase populations until the 
statewide goal review process is completed.
Minnesota's deer population has swung significantly over the past 50 
years. In 1971, for example, the state closed the deer hunting season 
because the population was too low. The DNR rebuilt the deer herd 
through tighter hunting regulations during the following decades. The 
deer harvest peaked at 290,000 in 2003 as the agency began to reduce 
deer numbers. Last year's harvest was 192,300, down 7 percent from the 
previous year and 15,000 fewer than the 2010 harvest.