Sportsmen, landowners consider how much is enough deer

MINNEOTA – The Southwest Sportsman’s Club of Minneota hosted a Department of Natural Resources update program on Monday evening featuring four guest presenters.

Area supervisor Wendy Krueger, Conservation Officer Matthew Loftness and assistant area wildlife managers Amber Knutson and Bill Schuna were on hand to answer questions of about 30 local sportsmen.

Ron Prorok, treasurer of Lyon County Pheasants Forever, expressed the concerns of some about tree removal in a few areas.

“We’ve cut volunteer trees, cedars, in the area but we haven’t cut man-planted trees,” Schuna said. “We’re losing CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land rapidly and cedar degrades grassland nesting areas. Private land is the driver of pheasant habitat. WMAs (Wildlife Management Area) are only three percent.”

According to Schuna, the DNR is trying to promote a mix of grassland and wetland for game bird habitat.

“Years ago, we tried to manage for everything,” Schuna said, “but we’ve found you can’t manage for every species.”

The primary topic of the evening, however, was deer.

Krueger brought samples of a questionnaire the DNR sent to 4,000 landowners and 4,000 hunters, containing 29 questions for hunters and 44 questions for landowners. The questions mostly concerned deer, the damage they do, controlling the population and what changes in hunting regulations might best promote and optimum population of deer for hunters and landowners.

“It’s a tool we use to help guide our season,” Krueger said. “If you got one, it’s very important you fill it out with honest answers, because we didn’t send a tome of them.”

When Kruger called for a show of hands on what the audience thought was a reasonable population of deer, there were votes for “just right” and votes for “too many.” There were no votes for “too few.”

“Producers are reporting major losses of alfalfa feed,” Schuna said. “We want to reduce the population, but we don’t want the situation of four years ago when there were almost no deer.”

According to Loftness, one producer reported an $18,000 loss over two nights recently.

“Garvin Nursery had a row of potted pine trees eaten, the whole tree not just the needles,” Schuna said. “I’m a bow hunter, I like to see deer too. But if you’d seen the damage they do to cattle producers, it’s just horrific.”

According to Krueger, the problem is finding a balance, figuring out how to have enough deer on the landscape for recreation without too much damage to farmers and cattle producers.

Krueger said the DNR is soliciting through the questionnaires and public meetings opinions about options, such as limited youth hunts and how they would be managed, early or late deer seasons, increasing the doe permits, or possible antler point restrictions to increase the population of trophy bucks.

One change for 2013 is anyone hunting on land in the Walk-in Access program will be required to have a WIA endorsement on their license before they hunt WIA land this fall. Landowners cannot give others permission to hunt without a validation.