Leslie McInenly Interview: Why the deer herd declined and more



6514 - deer doe-3The deer season is here.  What you might see in the woods this weekend is anyone’s guess.   With some areas seeing high winds again similar to last year, it might be tough to see any animals, despite what population numbers might be in that area.   You might also see more deer than you expect. Comments on our Facebook page have ranged from “I’m seeing twice as many deer as last year” to “I’m not even going to hunt this year.” 

We went straight to the DNR and the Big Game Program Leader, Leslie McInenly to get more on the management strategy employed this season and how you, the hunter, could influence changes for next season.

McInenly talks about the impact wolves have had on the deer population and what the number 1 reason for our declining deer herd.

Hear the entire interview on this weekend’s MNSJ Radio show. Here are some excerpts:

Bret Amundson (BA): Tell us how this season is different than last season:

Leslie McInenly (LM): “We’re taking a really conservative approach to our harvest opportunities this year. It’s designed to boost the population next year.”

BA: What are you hearing from hunters about the new regulations?

LM: “It really varies. You hear from folks most often when they’re disappointed with the decisions you’ve made. A number of the comments that I’ve been hearing is sort of surprise that we’ve gone this conservative. But we’re also hearing some support and interest in boosting the population.”

BA: With a state that’s as different as Minnesota, reactions are going to be different around the state.

LM: “It varies depending on where you are. In the northeast-where we’ve got a bucks only management strategy-that’s pretty restrictive. But people are seeing population impacts and that’s partly because of the severe winters we’ve had up there. I think other parts of the state, people are kinda scratching their heads a little bit. This is just the 2014 season, and once we’ve gone out into the broader conversation with folks in terms of what they want the population numbers to look like, it may change.

“Folks also know that we’re revisiting our deer population goals for most of the state over the next couple of years so this is going to be a discussion in terms of what folks want to see going forward and not just this season.”

The intensive harvest areas were a point of contention for some hunters. Areas where you could take up to 5 deer with bonus permits. Those areas have been narrowed down to just 7 areas in the state for 2014.   The bonus permits can be used in some special hunts as well.

LM: “So there are some additional opportunities around the state. Not just within the small permit areas, but it is significantly reduced (compared to last year).”

The areas that allow for more deer are unique in landscape, hunting pressure and management objectives. Simply put there are more deer or at least more deer than the area needs to have and that allows for hunters to take more deer in those areas. 

BA: Will we see changes for 2015?

LM: “I suspect that we probably will.   And I don’t know if that will be a big change or a little change. We’re revisiting population goals in 40 permit areas through that public process next year and we may set a different management direction for those areas. We also expecting the population to respond. If we’re protecting that many antlerless deer we’re expecting population numbers to be up as well. So we’ll have to look at it this spring and see what 2015 will look like.”

BA: Was there a certain percentage research said the population would grow based on the season that was set this year?

LM: “It wasn’t necessarily a certain percentage. Every year we look at our harvest trends and our population estimates and we factor in…our understanding of what the population is doing and then we project out and look what will happen under different management strategies and basically we’re just working to protect those antlerless deer this year.”

The public can be a part of the population goals and the deadline to be involved is November 17th.   Advisory teams for regional blocks of areas under discussion will be put together. If you hunt in the areas within the blocks you can be a part of the process. Get the details here and submit an application before the deadline.

LM: “Generally, we’ve got an area along the north shore that we’re looking at.   We’ve got the Bemidji/Park Rapids/North Central Permit areas kinda stretching over to the Deer River range. We’ve also got ski central Minnesota. Anywhere down from Carlton County until you hit the metro area so there is a large group of permit areas that will be revisited.”

BA: What are the steps that will take place for the next management process?

LM: “Once we get into the winter after the season we’ll have some public comment opportunities online and public meetings in the January/February timeframe. There will be some team meetings. We’re really working hard to pull in some public input at the front end before we dive into the work with the advisory teams.”

BA: What should people expect to see out there this year?

LM: “Compared to last year our harvest was over 170,000 last year and we’re significantly going to drop that this year.   I think there might be a perception out there that the deer numbers have dropped similarly over the past year and that’s certainly not the case in terms of numbers so they might be surprised and see more than they’re anticipating at this point. It depends on where you are in the state.”

Deer license numbers seem to be on running the same as last year, with approximately 500,000 hunters taking to the field.

BA: A recent article in the Star Tribune mentioned something many in the state had been thinking: that wolves may play a bigger part in the moose mortality than previous believed. Could that be a part of the decline in deer as well?

LM: “Sure wolves certainly have a role in deer mortality and predation. That’s something we do consider when we’re looking at some of our population estimates and research we’ve done. It’s always a factor that we should be watching and looking at. It’s not a perfectly easy number to crank out and have a formula that perfectly predicts what that impact will be. But overall the real impact in terms of our harvest numbers is hunter harvest. “

BA: So the biggest reason we have fewer deer in the state is because of the liberal hunting seasons?

LM: “Yes, I do. When we set those population goals in the mid-2000s we said we’d have unsustainably high harvests. We wouldn’t be continuing to harvest at the level of 250,000 – 290,000 deer a year because we were trying to bring those populations down. We were aggressive. “

Listen to the entire interview across the Minnesota Sporting Journal Radio network this weekend.   Find a station and time to listen here.

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