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MN: DNR’s deer plan focuses on big picture

Jon Weiss

Marty Stubstad, the owner of Archery Headquarters in Rochester, says the most important thing you need to know about the Department of Natural Resources’ new statewide deer plan is it’s not a hunting plan.

You’ll find no discussion about increasing or decreasing the size of the region where antler-point restrictions are in place. Nor are there any proposals to change the season formats.

Instead, it’s a look from the top at how the DNR will manage deer, who gets input and when and what the challenges are.

In that, it’s a “good start,” said Stubstad, who is a member of the management plan committee representing Bluffland Whitetails Association. But he also said that after 14 months of studying, talking, deliberating and discussion, “I still don’t know what to think about it.” It includes some great ideas, but, “to me, they are so vague,” he said.

But any “long-term vision (to) provide high-level direction study of deer in Minnesota” as the DNR described it, is inherently vague. The state is too big, the habitat too diverse, weather conditions too different, to make one great sweeping plan. What Stubstad said needs to be done is to have more detailed plans, maybe based on the mega-plan the DNR released this week, for each part of the state — prairie, deciduous woodlands (including this region) and the pine forests.

What deer hunters in Ely think about — such as wolves and moose — is far different than what hunters in the blufflands worry about, including pockets of deer overpopulation and chronic wasting disease, he said.

Who’s in charge?

According to Stubstad, the DNR doesn’t have a full-time person to coordinate the plan.

“We don’t have any direction,” he said. “Who’s going to lead the band?”

And about half of the 19-member committee hunted deer, while others came from The Nature Conservancy or farm groups, he said, and didn’t have the same passion for hunting.

The good news is concerns about CWD and other deer diseases are included in the plan. That’s crucial for the southeast, where a deer with CWD was found in Pine Island several years ago and several were found in the Preston area.

The DNR announced this week when it rolled out the plan that its goal is an annual deer harvest of 200,000. The harvest last season, which included some CWD hunts, was about 197,000.

During the past 17 seasons, the harvest has ranged from about 140,000 to nearly 300,000. An annual harvest of 200,000 “is nothing to get excited about; it’s not going to make hunters jump for joy,” Stubatad said.

Stubstad also said he wants to hear more about higher quality deer, not more deer. With antler-point restrictions, the southeast region is seeing more big deer.

“People are really enjoying it,” he said.

Better communication

One good thing to come out of the plan was BWA and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association talked more and are now agreeing on about 90 percent of issues, Stubstad said. And the plan has made the DNR realize just how important deer are as an economic and recreational resource.

The DNR also gave timelines on when it will begin getting input into the seasons, beginning talking in January and February and not a few months later, he said.

He hopes the DNR will get a big-game coordinator and that person “will fly with this,” he said.

Leslie McInenly, acting wildlife populations and programs manager, said Monday the plan is very high-level and tries to present the department’s long-term vision for deer management for the next 10 years.

“The plan recognizes the diversity of interests, considers multiple objectives and is informed by the best available science,” she said. “It also factors in ways to reduce the negative impacts deer can have on people and the landscape.”

The two big themes are the need to be more transparent in what the DNR does, as well as offering more ways to measure how well the DNR is doing and how it is communicating with its stakeholders from all sides of the deer management issue.

“People are looking for more information from us,” she said.

The 200,000-deer goal “has been a real challenge for us,” she said. But people are looking for consistency, and this offers some, though severe winters might lower the harvest, and several good years of fawning might require a higher harvest, she said. Setting that goal was a real challenge because some groups pushed for 225,000 while others sought 175,000, she said.

Some committee members sought a statewide ban on feeding deer to lower chances of deer spreading diseases.

“There are good reasons not to feed deer,” McInenly said, but a statewide ban would be “a little bit more tricky” because many people like to feed deer. The DNR is trying to assess the level of support for feeding and promote education before moving into something stricter, she said.

The plan also notes several problems, such as fewer people hunting and potential hunting lands being fragmented by development or being off limits to most hunters.

Some details of the plan hunters might be interested in include:

• Enhancing 100,000 acres per year on wildlife management areas to benefit deer.

• Adding 6,000 more acres per year for walk-in access.

• Adding 30,000 more acres per year in Wildlife Management Areas.

• About half a million Minnesotans hunt deer; they generate about $500 million in economic activity statewide.

Weigh in on the plan

Informational meetings in this region about the DNR’s new statewide deer plan will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 24 at Willow Creek Middle School, 2425 11th Ave. SE in Rochester, and April 26 at the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area Office, 15035 Highway 74 north of Elba.

If you can’t make the meetings, contact a local wildlife manager for additional information or to address any questions. A list of area wildlife offices is available online at

Information about the deer plan, background information and a link to submit online comments are on the DNR website at Comments are due by May 9.