Deer Hunters to Rank Management Options in New Survey

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking deer hunters across the state to rank potential regulations changes in a survey mailed recently in cooperation with the University of Minnesota.

A representative sample of about 6,000 Minnesota hunters will receive the survey, according to Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator. It is the first survey in which hunters will be asked to rank various management options.

"We need to go beyond asking if hunters support or oppose certain deer regulations," Cornicelli said. "This survey will allow us to gauge public support for specific regulations that have potential to lower deer populations in areas where they are too high."

In many parts of the state, deer densities are the highest ever recorded, according to Marrett Grund, farmland deer project leader. Lowering deer populations in those areas means finding regulations that are effective and have broad support from hunters. The survey is part of a larger research project that will link the effects of alternative regulations (early antlerless season, earn-a-buck, antler point restrictions) to the level of public support.

Cornicelli said the research has broader implications as the DNR reassesses deer population goals at meetings throughout the state. In meetings so far, residents, hunters and business representatives recommended lowering deer populations by 25 percent in some areas.

"The next step is to devise a strategy that achieves those goals, yet has the support of the hunting public," Cornicelli said.

This type of survey has not been conducted in wildlife management, but it is used extensively in business marketing, Cornicelli said. "The simplest analogy would be if we surveyed archers and asked them to rank camouflage color," he said. "If yellow were one of the choices, it would likely rank the lowest and probably shouldn't be sold by hunting companies."

The DNR is working with the U.S. Geological Survey's Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to conduct the study. The unit is located at the University of Minnesota. Assistant Unit Leader Dr. David Fulton is supervising implementation of the project.

"Such studies represent an important step among wildlife agencies," Fulton said. "They are actively seeking information from stakeholders to make decisions that will not only be biologically sound, but have broad public support."