When it comes to managing Ohio’s deer herd, people are quite passionate about the subject.
That was evident a week ago during five deer summits conducted by the Division of Wildlife (DOW). Information was presented on how the DOW manages the deer herd and how the wildlife agency hopes to continue managing the herd with the possible transition to a new management unit system. Information on chronic wasting disease (CWD), a deadly disease of the deer’s brain. CWD was discovered in Ohio for the first time in a buck on an Amish deer farm last October in Holmes County. CWD will be covered in next week’s column.
Personnel at the Wildlife District Two office in Findlay were pleased with the summit, especially with how the dialogue with hunters and concerned citizens went, according to John Windau, communications specialist, who moderated the event.
It was a day when the DOW, “could hear from you and you could also learn from us,” Windau said at the beginning of the summit.
“There were a lot of good questions, and hopefully people learned more about how Ohio’s deer are managed,” he said.
If there was a disappointment, it was the fact only 23 people attend the summit. DOW personnel wished more would have attended. Sixteen people attended the District One event while 13 attended the summit in District 3 and 30 attended the summit in District 5. A capacity crowd of 90 people attended the summit in District 3.
In addition to Windau, DOW personnel on hand at Findlay were district manager Scott Butterworth; Mike Reynolds, DOW program administrator for wildlife research; Bob Ford, wildlife management supervisor for Wildlife District Two; Jeremy Payne, wildlife investigator; Justin Harrington, assistant supervisor in Wildlife District Two; Paul Kurfis, law enforcement supervisor in Wildlife District Two and Troy Reimund, wildlife officer in Henry County. Payne spoke on CWD, Ford talked about deer management and Reynolds spoke on the transition to deer management units. He added comments on CWD and deer management. All DOW personnel answered questions from those in attendance.
Butterworth noted the summits were not about deer proposals but a part of the process for such proposals. Comments on deer proposals will be taken during the annual open houses from noon to 3 p.m. March 7 at each wildlife district office.
Managing deer is a lot more complicated than people may think.
Ford’s presentation indicated there is more to managing the deer herd than simply seeking input from farmers, hunters, motorists and wildlife watchers.
Much of Ford’s presentation is included in a DOW booklet called Quality vs. Quantity: A Closer Look at Deer Herd Condition Trends in Ohio. A pdf of the booklet is available on the DOW website at: wildohio.gov. There is a link on the home page. The direct address is http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/Portals/wildlife/pdfs/hunting/OhioDeerHerdUpdate_Web.pdf. Some printed copies likely will be available at future DOW events like the open houses.
“We are going to talk about condition of the deer herd. We are going to talk a little biology today. There are several factors that indicate Ohio’s deer herd condition declined as it increased in population and there was a decrease in quality habitat. Quality habitat will be defined as nutrition,” Ford said as he began his presentation.Biologists are looking at deer herd condition when attempting to set population goals.
Using several graphics, Ford showed how reproductive performance, yearling antler beam diameter, trophy buck potential and hunter bias play a role in determining the quality of the deer herd.
The DOW has reduced the size of the deer herd via antlerless permits. This approach has not been popular with all hunters. However, biologists are convinced this has helped and figure the herd and habitat health now are key in meeting their management goals.
The quality of the deer herd remained good, but the DOW has seen a decline because the population mushroomed over the years.
By tracking statistics, the wildlife agency has seen declines in fawn pregnancy yearling beam diameter, adult reproductive rate and trophy buck entries in the Buckeye Big Bucks Club (BBBC).
The declining number of trophy bucks may seem like an anomaly. Trophy bucks still are being submitted to the BBBC, however the rate of 1 percent of the harvest until the early 2000s has no longer kept pace with the buck harvest. The DOW cites this as being part of a downward trend in herd condition.
Another interesting fact is that in yearling antler beam diameter, the herd in western Ohio has remained stable compared to southeast, northeast and east-central regions. The DOW surveyed deer in Hancock and Williams counties in the western region. The region has a large agriculture area, which offers deer a better diet, primarily corn and soybeans and is the likely reason the beam diameter has remained stable in that area.
Reynolds said changing from a county-by-county basis to a deer management unit “makes more sense.”
The concept, which is still a work in progress, likely won’t come into use for a couple of years if approved by the Ohio Wildlife Council.
A graduate student at Ohio State University has been working on the concept and still has six months to complete it. The northwest region of the state has not been completed. To date, there would be 16 DMUs and Reynolds is expecting three to six more from northwest Ohio.
He noted that county lines are political whereby units could split a number of counties. Parts of a county could be forested, agricultural or urban. He said it makes better sense to group areas that are similar, which might make putting parts of counties into different units.
“We can better control the doe harvest and hope to get rid of the large swings in the population level and hope it evens out more,” Reynolds said.
The DOW emailed 90,000 hunter-based surveys and received nearly 10,000 answers in an effort to get more input from hunters.
Reynolds was emphatic when he said the DOW is not trying to kill off all the does and deer.
“We make money from deer permits. If we have no deer, we have no money,” he said.
He added the antlerless permits have pretty much done what they were set up to do. They were pulled in 37 counties during the deer hunting season.
It was noted during a question and answer session that Gov. John Kasich has proposed fishing and hunting fee hikes as part of his budget. The legislature not the DOW sets license fees. Butterworth said the DOW had tried to get a higher non-resident license fee a year ago but was not successful. There has been no license fee in 10 years. Butterworth said costs have gone up 26 percent in that period and a fee increase is needed.
Because Ohio’s non-resident license is so cheap compared to many states, about 40,000 non residents come to the state for deer hunting. Hunters have come from as far west as California and as far south as Florida.
Butterworth noted a huge issue is hunters paying $2,000-$3,000 a week to hunt on private land in southeast Ohio. “This takes the land out of the public’s hands,” he said.
A question was raised about bringing back deer check stations instead of the self check now being used. Poaching was the main concern on that issue.
Payne, Kurfis and Reimund all like the new system better and said they did not think that many deer were being poached under this system.
Payne said the check station system did not work because paperwork often did not match up and it took time to check out deer reported that way. With the new system, DOW personnel can do a quick check on a computer on deer reported and discover if someone misused a tag, etc. He added that as some hunters say the DOW is missing some deer, “We are finding way more deer than we ever missed” with the new system.
“I know. I come from an outlaw family,” he said, which drew some hearty laughter. “I’ve arrested members of my family. I mean that’s how bad my family was. They would go from one county, kill deer. They would go down south and kill deer. You couldn’t catch them under the old system. This new system has way more benefits than the old system.”
Another question raised concerned coyote-deer kill and a possible bounty on coyotes.
Reynolds said, “Bounties don’t work. It’s a catch-22 situation. The more coyotes you kill, the more pups they produce. All wildlife is cyclical,” he said.
He noted deer and coyote populations go up together. Coyotes usually take young fawns in the early stages when does primarily leave them alone. During the summer, coyotes prefer fruits. He also noted they impact the ground hog population more than the deer population.