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Panel takes a look at Minnesota deer population goals

The charge is straightforward: Should deer population goals along Minnesota's North Shore be increased, decreased or kept the same? Fourteen members of a North Shore deer advisory group met Tuesday in Two Harbors to consider those options in five...

Map of deer permit areas along North Shore
Map of deer permit areas along North Shore (News Tribune graphics)

The charge is straightforward: Should deer population goals along Minnesota’s North Shore be increased, decreased or kept the same?
Fourteen members of a North Shore deer advisory group met Tuesday in Two Harbors to consider those options in five deer permit areas stretching from outside Duluth to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The meeting was part of the goal-setting process being conducted in areas across the state by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials. Deer population goals in Northeastern Minnesota were last evaluated in
2005-06, when deer populations were near all-time highs. Now deer numbers are low after a couple of severe winters.
“We’re getting a lot of questions answered,” said Mike Schrage, a member of the deer advisory group. “We’re getting a feel for what issues people think are important - deer numbers, moose numbers, forest regeneration, diversity.”
Schrage lives in Cloquet and is wildlife biologist for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He also was on a deer advisory panel in 2006.
The advisory group will meet again in late March and make its recommendations to the DNR in April. After that, public meetings will be held to get feedback.
DNR officials are on hand at the advisory group meetings to answer questions. The panel is made up of hunters, landowners and those who represent groups or agencies involved in hunting, forestry, tribal resource management, county government and more.
DNR officials hope the panel can reach consensus on its recommendation about deer population  goals, said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader.
“What we’re looking for is a recommendation by consensus, a pretty high level majority of 80 percent of the folks to be in agreement,” McInenly said.
After goal-setting meetings in 2005-2006, when deer populations were high, a citizen group recommended decreasing goals in these five permit areas from 10 to 25 percent. To do that, the DNR began issuing antlerless deer permits more liberally. Then, a series of moderate to severe winters further reduced the populations to today’s low levels.
Last fall’s deer harvest was about 139,500, McInenly said, compared to a record harvest of 290,000 in 2003.
“I was on this same deer team back in 2006 … when deer numbers were at record highs,” Schrage said. “Even the deer hunters were saying we could have fewer deer and it would be OK.”
Schrage said the advisory group’s recommendations will help steer the DNR’s deer management, but other factors come into play.
“We’re going to set a goal,” he said. “If we have a couple of mild winters, we’ll have a lot of doe permits. If we have a couple of hard winters, like we’ve just had, it’ll be bucks-only hunting. That’s the reality of living in northern Minnesota. Winter is the determining factor on how many deer we have. All of this is made more complicated by predator populations. Wolves do have an impact on the deer population.”
Forest certification issue

Brooks Johnson, president of Minnesota Bowhunters Inc. based in Roseville, Minn., has alleged that the issue of forest certification has been a driving force in setting deer population goals. Johnson contends that the DNR lowered those goals in forested regions of the state in the mid-2000s in order to maintain sustainable forest certification.
The state’s forests are certified as sustainable, a designation that’s important to timber producers. After the deer population goal-setting process began in 2005, the DNR was asked to show that its process took into consideration sustainable forest management.
Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program leader, wrote in an email to Johnson on Feb. 17: “You are right though, this was a major factor of why forest deer population goals were generally lowered.”
When deer populations are high, they take a toll on forests by feeding on young trees, making forest regeneration more difficult.
Merchant went on to say, however, that the deer population goals Johnson is seeking would be unsustainable.
“You are simply advocating for deer populations that will negatively affect ecosystem health, and thus jeopardize not only (Minnesota) forests, but deer habitat and long-term (sustainable) deer populations,” Merchant wrote.
The 2005-2006 goal-setting process was done in a similar fashion to this round of goal-setting, in which citizen advisory groups representing a broad range of interests recommended reducing deer numbers in many forest-region deer permit areas.
“When the (forest products) industry saw what we were doing, they said that it was a good process,” McInenly said. “Certification doesn’t prescribe anything we do. This has nothing to do with certification being the boogeyman. It’s pointing fingers in the wrong places.”
McInenly said that in the future, the DNR plans to revisit deer goals every three to five years in a less formal way than this year’s process, rather than waiting 10 years.

Members of deer advisory group

Citizen Advisory Group - Superior Uplands/Arrowhead Block
Deer permit areas 117, 122, 126, 127 and 180
Jerry Berding, Aurora - Retired senior engineer and business manager, hunter and angler.
Chuck Dryke, Duluth - Lifelong outdoorsman and deer hunter, former dogsledder who has worked with forest products industry.
Chris Dunham, Duluth -  Forest manager at the Nature Conservancy since 2002, deer hunter.
Andy Edwards, Duluth - Resource management director for the 1854 Treaty Authority since 1997, involved in fish and wildlife management and research on behalf of the Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Nathan Eide, Two Harbors - Land commissioner for Lake County, overseeing management of about 160,000 acres. Deer hunter.
Josh Goutermont, Two Harbors - Spends time outdoors fishing, hunting and camping. “Having a robust (deer) herd for future generations of hunters and nature enthusiasts to enjoy is important,” Goutermont said.
Bill Lannon, Duluth - Licensed Realtor specializing in rural real estate and land. Owner of Cape Superior Inn on Lake Superior. Retired from the Duluth Police Department.
Rose Maslowski, Two Harbors - Holds a B.S. degree in biology from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Care specialist at Trillium Services and Diamond Willow.
Scott R. Mead, Duluth - Represents Izaak Walton League. Retired. Township supervisor.
Craig J. Merriman, Ely - Deer hunter since age 12. Works as a forester for the U.S. Forest Service.
Shawn Perich, Hovland - Represents the Minnesota Forest Resources Council. Perich, an avid hunter, is a columnist for Minnesota Outdoor News, co-founder of Northern Wilds Media and author of eight books.
Dan Ryan, Aurora - Wildlife biologist with Superior National Forest. Deer hunter.
Mike Schrage, Cloquet - Wildlife biologist for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Deer hunter and Duluth resident.
Molly Thompson, Duluth - Executive director of Sugarloaf: The North Shore Stewardship Association. Sugarloaf works with North Shore landowners to restore and protect the North Shore forests in addition to owning and managing Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center.
Brad Trevena, Proctor - Proctor resident and hydroelectric plant operator. Region 3 director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
News Tribune

Related Topics: HUNTING
Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249.
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