Between January 30 and March 5, 2017, DNR solicited public comments on a draft outline of the state's Deer Management Plan. The following report summarizes the input we received and describes how comments are being incorporated into the planning process.
Background on the deer management plan
The DNR is in the process of writing a 10-year strategic plan to guide deer management in Minnesota. A draft outline of the Deer Management Plan was created after conversations with resource professionals and stakeholders (including a citizen advisory committee) identified the following seven topic areas for inclusion in the deer plan:
- Healthy deer
- Deer population management, monitoring and researchr
- Communication, information sharing, public involvement and accountabilityr
- Hunter and non-hunter satisfactionr
- Healthy habitatr
- Impacts of deer on other resources (e.g. crops, other wildlife, etc.)r
- Funding for deer management.
Initial deer plan public input period
During late winter of 2017, DNR held the first of two public input periods for the Deer Management Plan; the second will be held once a draft of the Deer Management Plan is completed in December 2017. The first comment period was open from January 30 to March 5, 2017. Over 1400 comments were received, including 147 emails, 5 letters, and 1273 responses to the online questionnaire. During this time, DNR also hosted 12 public input meetings around the state, which a total of approximately 500 participants attended. Individual comments were not submitted at meetings, but DNR did record notes from small-group discussions.
Comments were submitted in two ways: as multiple-choice responses to the online questionnaire, or as open-ended comments submitted via mail, email, or through an open-ended comment box in the online questionnaire. Each of the open-ended comments received was read by DNR staff and grouped according to the topic of the draft management plan that the comment addressed (or labeled 'Other', if the comment did not address an existing topic). Comments addressing multiple topics were split so that each section of the comment could be grouped accordingly. Each comment was then given two additional subtopic tags so they could be grouped even more specifically within each topic area. For example, a comment suggesting improved testing of harvested deer for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) might be grouped under the topic of "Healthy deer", with subtopics "Monitoring and Research" and "CWD".
Although DNR is not responding to each individual comment received, this document summaries of the comments received for each draft topic area and describes how this input is being used in development of the Deer Management Plan.
DNR response to comments
Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in the winter public input period - your input and discussions have been valuable. Public comments collected in winter 2017 are being used to help develop draft objectives and strategies for each of the seven topic areas identified last fall. DNR staff and Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee (DMPAC) members will continue to use the public comments received last winter to inform to inform discussions on each topic area being considered for inclusion in the deer plan.
More information about the deer plan and planning process is available on the DNR's Deer Plan webpage. The DMPAC has been meeting monthly since December 2016; each month the committee provides input and feedback on goals, objectives and strategies for each draft topic area. Past meeting agendas and notes are also available on theDMPAC webpage.
Summary of comments – open-ended
This section summarizes comments received via the open-ended portion of the online questionnaire, as well as those received via mail and email. Topics and subtopics are described in descending order of frequency. Depending on the full context of each comment, similar items are sometimes grouped under different topic headings.
Hunter and non-hunter satisfaction
Approximately one third of all comment received addressed issues related to hunter satisfaction. The majority of these were comments indicating individuals' preferences about deer hunting season structure and specific regulations. Topics mentioned most frequently included antler point restrictions (more in favor than opposed), deer hunting season dates (more favored moving firearm season out of the rut), and party hunting (more favored eliminating cross-tagging), Additional topics mentioned included management designations and bag limits, non-resident license fees, lottery, regulations related to muzzleloaders and crossbows, use of ATVs, use of deer stands and special hunts (e.g. youth or senior hunts, State Park hunts, etc.).
Many comments also expressed that hunter satisfaction is linked to the opportunity to hunt more mature bucks, although some comments stated that hunting for meat and/or for the experience itself is still important for many hunters. A number of comments also stated that increasing hunter satisfaction - by increasing opportunities to see and hunt deer, reducing regulatory complexity, and/or improving the quality of deer and deer hunting - will be essential for hunter recruitment and retention.
Very few comments mentioned satisfaction unrelated to deer hunting; those that did touched on issues related to depredation resources for landowners, and communication and interactions with DNR staff.
Deer population management, monitoring and research
The greatest number of comments on this topic addressed predators, including wolves, coyotes and bears. Most of these comments favored reducing predator populations, especially wolves, and many expressed the sentiment that managing deer populations will require proactive management of predator populations. Several comments indicated that wolves and other predators are a valued part of the natural ecosystem, and can also help cull sick or overabundant deer.
Numerous comments on this topic expressed individuals' preferences to increase or decrease local deer populations (slightly more favored an increase). Many comments also included preferences about population age structure and sex ratio (more favored managing to increase the number of mature bucks). We also received comments suggesting increases or decreases to bag limits to achieve population goals (preferences were divided), preferences about the use of other management strategies (e.g. suggestions to increase the number of antlerless permits issued, eliminate party hunting, or ban deer feeding), and comments expressing dissatisfaction with previous management decisions.
Comments related to monitoring and research were primarily focused on suggestions to improve the accuracy of DNR's deer population estimates, and to expand or improve the data used to make management decisions. Many comments suggested using hunters and other volunteers to assist with data collection and to provide more localized public input into decisions about deer.
Many comments also emphasized the need for regional, permit-area level, or sometimes even more localized management decisions. Some suggested specific changes to individual permit area boundaries to better align with deer populations, habitat, or other landscape features.
Communication, information sharing, public involvement and accountability
The greatest number of comments on this topic addressed public involvement (also referred to as public engagement or public participation) in deer management. Most of these comments indicated that the public values opportunities to provide input about deer management, and would like such opportunities to be more frequent and more localized. Many comments suggested that input processes need to be fair and not favor special interests. Some comments indicated that DNR should prioritize deer hunters' input; others indicated that public engagement processes should involve a variety of stakeholders, including non-hunters. Several comments provided specific suggestions, such as holding annual public meetings about deer management, or conducting hunter and landowner opinion surveys more frequently.
Numerous comments also addressed how DNR disseminates information about deer to the public. Comments suggested that DNR should provide more information explaining its deer management decisions, more technical assistance and information about habitat and wildlife management on private lands, and more information about herd health and deer biology. Some comments also expressed preferences about communication methods (e.g. via news releases, DNR website, social media, etc.).
Other topics addressed in this section included transparency (about deer management, funding, deer-related data, etc.), feedback on the Deer Plan planning process, suggestions about the role of public input in DNR's deer management decisions, and more.
More than half of the comments on this topic addressed management of deer diseases, especially chronic wasting disease (CWD). Most comments indicated support for aggressive management of CWD, including reducing populations in infested areas, reducing or eliminating deer feeding statewide, increasing disease monitoring and research, and examining/addressing the role of captive deer farms in the spread of CWD. Several comments expressed disapproval of DNR's response to the recent outbreak of CWD in Southeastern MN, citing concerns that deer populations will be excessively reduced with little actual effect on the disease.
Multiple comments drew a connection between deer population management decisions and herd health; specifically, many commenters suggested that a more balanced age structure (more mature deer) and sex ratio (more bucks) would improve herd health. Others expressed concern about mature bucks contributing to the spread of CWD. Several comments mentioned improving habitat and reducing deer densities to promote overall deer health.
The majority of comments related to habitat focused on increasing and improving habitat for deer through timber management, food plots, habitat management on public lands, technical assistance for habitat management on private lands, and increases/improvements to deer wintering areas. Many comments simply emphasized the importance of maintaining quality habitat, and particularly the importance of having public land available for hunting.
Some comments expressed concerns about loss of habitat for deer and other wildlife, and others also expressed concerns about the negative impact overabundant deer can have on forests and native plants.
Impacts on other resources
Many of the comments related to the impacts of deer on other resources addressed deer depredation (i.e. deer browsing crops, forests, gardens and landscaping, etc.). Most of these suggested providing compensation or other resources to landowners who experience crop or forest depredation. Several commented on the rules related to landowner tags.
Many comments also expressed concerns about the impact of deer on other wildlife, particularly moose (for example, as carriers of brain worm or other diseases that could harm moose). Several comments expressed concern that managing for moose will negatively impact deer hunting. A few expressed concerns about impacts to other wildlife (including songbirds), native plants and wildflowers, and domestic shrubs and specialty crops.
Many comments expressed concerns about deer browse preventing forest regeneration, particularly native white pine and cedar. Some indicated support for lowering deer populations in areas where forest health is a concern.
Some comments also expressed concern about deer-vehicle collisions and other public health issues such as Lyme disease, which is spread by deer ticks.
Most of the comments related to funding for deer management focused on the sources of funding. Comments were divided between supporting and opposing the current hunting license fee increase initiative, but many indicated a need to increase funding for deer management. Some also suggested a need to diversify funding sources.
Many comments also expressed individuals' preferences for how funding is allocated to different deer management activities (i.e. enforcement, habitat improvement, research, etc.). Some indicated a need to increase the percentage of deer hunting license dollars that are dedicated to deer management. Several comments suggested increasing transparency and information about funding for deer management.
Additional comments that did not fit easily under other headings included comments about enforcement (e.g. a need to increase enforcement and strengthen penalties for violations), feedback about the Deer Plan planning process (including comments about the online questionnaire, public meetings, etc.), comments about interactions with DNR staff, and other topics such as economics, tribal hunting seasons, interagency coordination, motivations for hunting, and ethics and fair chase.
Summary of Comments – questionnaire
This section summarizes responses to the portions of the online questionnaire where respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement with goals associated with the seven draft topic areas, and rank their preferences among multiple sub-topics.
DNR received 1273 responses to the online questionnaire. Approximately 94% of respondents were male; 94% were white; and 94% indicated they hunt deer. Nearly 50% of respondents were aged 45-64, while approximately 35% were aged 25-44. Zip codes indicated that respondents were well distributed across Minnesota. Nearly all deer permit areas were represented as well, with clusters around population centers in the north-central, east-central and south-east portions of the state.
In general, questionnaire respondents supported all of the goal statements associated with each topic area:
% questionnaire respondents who
Strongly Agree or Agree
Healthy deer: Ensure a healthy deer herd by monitoring and addressing deer health and associated impacts to resources.
56% Strongly Agree
Deer population management, monitoring and research: Manage deer adaptively, considering both biological and social information in decision-making.
42% Strongly Agree
Communication, information sharing, public involvement and accountability: Effectively communicate with and involve the public in deer management efforts. Evaluate management based on established performance measures.
48% Strongly Agree
Hunter and non-hunter satisfaction: Consider biological and social dimensions of deer management decisions. Incorporate recruitment and involvement efforts to ensure hunting and other deer-related recreation opportunities exist for future generations.
50% Strongly Agree
Healthy habitat: Maintain healthy habitat by managing for an appropriate number of deer, and by protecting and enhancing habitat.
60% Strongly Agree
Impacts to other resources: Address negative impacts of deer to the land, resources and other species.
31% Strongly Agree
Funding: Ensure sufficient and cost-effective funding for deer management.
41% Strongly Agree
The online questionnaire included a forced-ranking section, in which respondents were asked to prioritize among multiple sub-topic areas. Many respondents indicated in their comments that this ranking was difficult, as many or all of the subtopic areas were equally important to the respondents. Nonetheless, the top-ranking sub-topics are as follows:
1. Herd health and monitoring
2. Abundance of deer
3. Disease prevention and management
Deer population management, monitoring and research
1. Deer population goal setting
2. Deer management, monitoring and research
3. Deer harvest objective(s)
4. Use of public and stakeholder input in management
5. Managing deer on small geographic scales
Communication, information sharing, public involvement and accountability
1. DNR understanding of public interests
3. Quality of DNR decision-making
4. Ongoing public and stakeholder involvement in deer management
5. Public understanding of deer biology, ecology and management decisions
Hunter and non-hunter satisfaction
1. Annual antlerless harvest decisions
2. Affirm hunting as an important activity and management tool
3. Deer hunting regulations and objectives
4. Deer age structure management
5. Responsiveness of DNR to public
1. Habitat monitoring and research
2. Public access to hunting lands
3. Habitat health
4. Habitat availability
Impacts to other resources
1. Depredation resources
2. Human health (e.g. Lyme disease)
3. Deer impacts to moose and other wildlife
4. Local management tools
5. Damage to forests and other plants
1. Prioritization of funding for management activities
2. Fund integrity
3. Funding sources