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Deer Management Issues in Wisconsin

How many deer can the land support in balance with other needs?

(Photo credit Dawn Hukzek at Flickr.com)

Until the early 1980's, Wisconsin resource managers believed the state was doing a reasonable job of keeping deer populations near goals. They thought silvicultural impacts were tolerable so long as herds were kept below 70% of carrying capacity. The situation started going awry in the mid-1980s, but it wasn't until the mid-1990s that foresters and wildlife biologists became especially alarmed. Despite warnings, the state has been unable to restore herds to goals (see chart, below). A DNR specialist points out that contributing factors include: winters have moderated, increasing survival; baiting and feeding are subsidizing deer; and privatized deer management especially in the farmlands reduces DNR influence on harvests. Also, the precedent of having a long period of over-goal deer populations has built resistance among hunters to herd reduction.

Deer management in Wisconsin is now a hot topic receiving attention at the highest levels of state government. Following is a collection of resources a team at Wisconsin SAF has pulled together to help foresters follow the issues and participate in the debate on alternatives.


"Dr. Deer" Report

Wisconsin hired an independent reviewer, Dr. James Kroll, a Texas-based researcher popularly called "Dr. Deer" or the "Deer Czar" to audit the state's deer management program. The WISCONSIN WHITE-TAILED DEER TRUSTEE AND REVIEW COMMITTEE FINAL REPORT was released July 10, 2012.

Kroll hosts additional findings including past surveys on his Dr. Deer website.

On September 6, 2012, WI SAF hosted a Webinar on the Deer Management Final Report, presented by Wildlife Biologist Dr. Gary Alt, a co-author of the report.


DNR Deer Population Maps and Research

Wisconsin DNR maintains an excellent deer management website, covering a host of publications on deer research, historical harvests, health, and other topics.

Although hunters often dispute DNR's deer population estimates, maps showing data based on previous year harvests statistics are available. Deer populations exceed 100 per square mile in some areas. How high are the fall and over-winter estimates for your area?

How many deer are enough? As advised by Wildlife Biologist Ron Eckstein, “35+ years of field observation by DNR wildlife and forestry staff confirms that overwinter deer populations in excess of 20 deer per square mile will have lasting impacts on tree reproduction. Hemlock, white cedar, yellow birch, white birch and red oak are particularly hurt. The best balance between economic, ecological, and deer hunting objectives is moderate deer populations in the range of 15 to 20 deer per square mile in the northern forest.  At this level, deer can reproduce at the highest level, we can have a good harvest, forests will thrive, and the ecology will be protected.”


Deer Resource Center for Eastern North America

"Caring for Deer and Forests" offers an excellent collection of deer management information maintained by Penn State University, US Forest Service Research & Development, and Southern Regional Extension Forestry.

2007 Wisconsin SAF Position Statement on Deer

Supporting the 2006 Council on Forestry study (below), Wisconsin SAF issued a policy statement encouraging efforts to reduce deer herbivory impacts.

Wisconsin Council on Forestry Deer Impacts Study

In response to field surveys showing adverse impacts on forest regeneration, the Council on Forestry sent the Governor a deer management position in 2006. The Council concluded, "From a science-based perspective, the burgeoning deer herd is having a detrimental impact on forest regeneration, health and quality, and on the biological diversity of Wisconsin’s forests. There will likely be long term, detrimental effects on forest productivity in Wisconsin if deer population density is not reduced." How herd reduction is to be accomplished was not defined.

More resources to consider:

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