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Why Deer Management Policies Need an Overhaul

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When many deer hunting outsiders hear about herd management items like “quotas,” “bag limits,” and other hunting license rules, regulations, and restrictions, they assume that those numbers have been determined almost exclusively by biologists who know a state’s deer herd like the back of their hands, and who have mathematically determined what sort of harvest numbers will best help to keep the herd in check without eradicating it to the point of endangerment. Heck, many hunters think that. Even some people who have been involved in this sport for decades still like to believe that the people making the decisions about deer management have the best interests of both the herd and the hunters in mind.

There’s a good reason that people want to believe this conception of deer management. Quite simply, it’s a utopian view of the system that seems, at least from the outside, to offer symbiotic support to all parties. The biologists track deer movements and herd growths in order to establish quotas. The quotas give hunting enthusiasts an opportunity to engage their hobbies. And in turn, the state is saved from deer herd overpopulation, the public is saved from crop destruction and dangerous deer-related car accidents, and everyone wins. It really is a lovely system.

If only that were the way the system actually worked.

Most of us would love to believe that the people in charge of wildlife management policies have the best interests of everyone at heart. Unfortunately, by believing that, we would also be asserting that our state governments always know best about how to manage deer population numbers, and quite frankly, that’s not always the case.

There are several reasons for this weakness, and in many cases, it all starts with the governor, a politician with a lot of people to please and a lot of things on his or her plate. The governor, along with his or her appointed chief of the state’s wildlife agency, quickly becomes part of a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario when it comes to wildlife management policies.

It’s not that, by simply becoming a state governor, a person becomes incapable of understanding the scientific processes behind wildlife management. On the contrary, some governors may well be passionate hunters who know as much as there is to know about managing deer herds. But some may have never given hunting a second thought, or worse, may be completely against the concept of the sport.

Governors who loathe hunting can easily make it difficult for any changes to be made in wildlife management, or can push their own agenda and make decisions about wildlife management on their own without having any scientific reasoning to back them up. Take Iowa, where a liberal doe hunting provision has taken a toll on deer herd populations, but where the current governor seems disinterested in doing anything to address the problem.

So how can we solve this problem?

First of all, the governor should not have so much power over wildlife management. The decisions in that regard should be made by state wildlife agencies – unencumbered by agenda-carrying governor appointees – and should be fueled almost entirely by science. Finally, hunters themselves should be allowed a greater say in wildlife management laws, rules, regulations, and policies. After all, we do all the work to actually manage the animal populations in our states, and we have first-person evidence of what the herds are actually looking like. Our opinions should be not only frequently solicited by wildlife management officials, but also valued above almost all else.

What is your opinion of your state’s deer herd management program? Has your state made any recent changes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Why Deer Management Policies Need an Overhaul