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Can 'Dr. Deer' Fix Wisconsin Deer Hunting, Create New Management Model for Nation?

By the fall of 2010, the relationship between Wisconsin deer hunters and the state Department of Natural Resources had turned so publicly toxic that then gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker parlayed it into a campaign promise: Vote for me, he told the state’s nearly 1 million deer hunters, and I’ll appoint someone to fix what’s wrong with the DNR. Just 10 months after he was sworn into office, Gov. Walker signed Executive Order No. 44, directing the appointment of a “Whitetail Deer Trustee” (a term the local media quickly replaced with czar) to “review and evaluate Wisconsin’s deer herd management practices.”

The unprecedented move grants the trustee, who reports solely to the governor, full access to and cooperation from the DNR—which must also pay his salary. On Oct. 3, 2011, Walker named prominent Texas biologist James Kroll to the post. Popularly known as “Dr. Deer,” Kroll is now Wisconsin’s “deer czar”—and he says his team is creating a national model for deer management in the 21st century.

The Breakdown
It’s not unusual for Wisconsin hunters to kill nearly half a million deer in a season. They are perennial leaders in the B&C and P&Y record books. From the outside looking in, the state’s deer program seems something to envy. But there has been a string of problems over the last decade and a half, mostly to do with herd reduction.

After years of encouraging hunters to kill does by offering more and cheaper antlerless permits, the DNR started mandating it in 1996 with a wildly unpopular Earn-a-Buck rule, requiring hunters to kill a doe before trying for a buck. This eventually covered 57 of 134 deer management units. The same areas also held special antlerless-​only firearm seasons in October and December. In 2002, after three hunter-killed deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Dane County, the DNR established a CWD Management Zone, which now covers 8,819 square miles, implementing rifle seasons from September through March, providing free antlerless tags, and hiring sharpshooters to kill deer. Statewide, the agency issued more than a million doe tags in 2006. Hunters tolerated the changes while harvests boomed, from about 375,000 in 1994 to a record 615,293 in 2000.

But then the totals tumbled. The 2008 kill fell to about 450,000. And when the 2009 harvest came in at a comparatively paltry 329,103—the lowest in over 15 years—hunters erupted with complaints. They could live with herd reduction, they said, but not herd destruction. And they no longer trusted the agency’s population estimates, used to justify the new rules. The DNR declined several offers to detail its side of the story for this article, but its reaction at the time seems to have been that hunters were too slow or unwilling to accept the new realities of an overpopulated deer herd.

The result has been a total breakdown in trust and communication.

Game Changer
Fixing the problem, insists Gov. Walker, goes beyond politics. “Deer hunting is important on so many levels,” he says. “I’m a deer hunter, and I know what that heritage means to this state. It’s also an economic issue; deer hunters bring a lot of money to the hotels, restaurants, and businesses here. And finally, I’m acutely aware of the hunter recruitment and retention issue; we’re losing hunters, and we can’t afford to. Wisconsin simply wasn’t living up to its strong deer hunting reputation. It was time to do something.”

Time, apparently, to get a deer czar. “I detest that term,” says Kroll, a professor of forest wildlife management and director of the Institute for Whitetail Deer Management at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. “Czars always wind up dead in a ditch somewhere.” A widely respected biologist, game-management consultant, and TV personality, Kroll has researched whitetail deer from the Lone Star State to the far reaches of Alberta. “I consider this appointment to be the highlight of my 40-year career.”

Before his new position was even announced, Kroll started visiting restaurants and archery shops, trying to gauge the pulse of the average hunter. “There’s a severely fractured relationship between them and the agency,” he says. “Hunters pay the bills and have bellied up to the bar for deer management. They need to be respected and listened to and honored. CWD management is a perfect example; I went on television 10 years ago and predicted that Wisconsin’s eradication approach would be a failure, that their infection rate would remain at least the same. I was right about that, but the sad thing is that hunters in that zone are just deflated. Just recently I talked to a group of them and one asked, ‘Could you come up with something here that will put the fun back into hunting?’”

Of the people he spoke with, Kroll says the vast majority didn’t know who their area wildlife manager was or how to contact him. “That stood out to me as wrong. It is not the job of hunters to seek out biologists. It’s our job to go to them.” Hunters said they were especially skeptical of DNR deer population estimates, so Kroll requested reams of data from the DNR for analysis. “They delivered it on a forklift,” he says. “I also met with them for a serious question-and-answer session. I’d completely understand it if they resented me. But they didn’t show it. I hope I’ve shown them that I’m not here to be an axman.”

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from jay wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Maybe once he has wisconsin fixed he can head south to Illinois and fix the travesty that is our DNR.

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from dtownley wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Good luck with this Wisconsin, Texas has 1.3 million acres of public land up for hunting. I am trying to score deer on it, they are there but over population dosen't show well with poachers biteing at these animals heels. TPW offers a lot but I have yet to see the numbers other than on private property. When I arrived from Michigan in 1983 I had high hopes for TX its huge, when I hit the woods, it was where are they ? Private property was a good place to get run over by deer, I have seen and hunted it,(ranchers) the men & women protect deer dirt at all costs.
4.5 + million deer and we would be lucky most years to kill near 500K of them, these TPW folks ain't figured it out or a fish story is being told. Out of state hunters would be making these ranchers, bankers if they would lower out of state licenses fees,'cause these folks would not be going to the National Forest for deer, it would be private property where the BIG BONES are at, not the Nat'l Forest. Hell I've been wrong before but like when I saved myself from MI., I left my favorite critter...Mr Whitetail hopeing his Southern Cousin would fill the void and the reward was great(I settle but I don't know who else will). All them folks from Wisconsin don't want to come to TX. to hunt deer they have deer up there. If it ain't right here, why should Wisconsiners get caught in a DEER CZAR TIME WARP ? Watch out for them fishing stories Wisconsin, IMO, a serious national forest needs to keep a close eye out for Wisconsins best interests...the HERD. If he came from out State to tell you your business don't let him out of your sight and question everything.

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from rose0660 wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Being a Wisconsin native and an avid deer hunter, bringing in a guy from Texas to tell the state how to manage the deer herd is absurd. I cannot trust anyone who while driving to his private HIGH FENCED spread of 200 acres, “game management is the last bastion of communism.” I don’t want to turn this into politics, but Walker claiming to be a deer hunter, I’m not sure if I’ll want to venture into any woods he may be in with a gun. I can’t trust a deer hunter, who on the Wisconsin fishing opener is photographed holding a spinning reel upside down.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

roseo is spot on.
the deeer czar has called national parks "wildlife ghettos". he has called hunters asking for more public land socialists. he says the north american model of wildlife management is communism. the editor of deer and deer hunting magazine has written a couple nice pieces about the deer czar on their website. everyone should check it out. specifically the fact that his first report was filled with errors and misinformation.

scott and field and stream: I am EXTREMELY surprised you would write an article like this about someone who is so opposed to public lands and is all about the high fence world. It was very shocking coming from this magazine

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dtownley wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Wisc14, don't be surprised, be glad for the exposure, I am in TX and yes I miss them big corneaters...uh until I have to drag one out, then I am glad I have 5 little one tags. When folks from the North get someone from the South to look over their deer herd the sh1t gets personal. Our deer ain't perfect here Mr. Deer Dr. ? Kiss my... it takes National Forest hunters to know about Nat'l Forest deer...NOT RANCH DEER, they are different, pursued different, dealt with different, they(ranch deer) are treated like babies here. Write your DNR and find out what they are trying to prove with TX comeing up North. I know Michigan has big deer biologist over there... where in Sam Hills name are those educated WI. deer biologists ? Are Game Departments Members of a Union ? Or Who's Union Does Your Game Department Work For ? Hunters pay good money to know whats going on within their Game Department! H3LL what do I know I just want to eat healthy dead ones. Go on and burn the house down

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from GrandSlamDreamer wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

This situation is something that unfortunately only time will be able to tell us if it was a good move or not. It is known that Kroll has advocated for high fence property and that doesn't sit well with many people, myself included. But with that being said, he advocates the high fences because of how it enables people to better tend to a deer populations needs, by tweaking private land habitat. His methods have proven to work in the past and I can understand why someone would appoint Dr. Kroll as a trustee, especially given the dire situation WI seems to be in. If he can get the funding to implement the same techniques he uses on the high fence land out onto public land with the help of the hunting population, then this just might work.
However, I think that it would have been better to appoint a WI native biologist, who is more familiar with the situation as the trustee. It would have at least of resonated better with rest of the WI hunting population, if not garnered more support for the coming changes. I look forward to seeing how this pans out in the future and the articles I expect to see about it later issues of F&S

Happy Huntings
-GSD

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from GrandSlamDreamer wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

This situation is something that unfortunately only time will be able to tell us if it was a good move or not. It is known that Kroll has advocated for high fence property and that doesn't sit well with many people, myself included. But with that being said, he advocates the high fences because of how it enables people to better tend to a deer populations needs, by tweaking private land habitat. His methods have proven to work in the past and I can understand why someone would appoint Dr. Kroll as a trustee, especially given the dire situation WI seems to be in. If he can get the funding to implement the same techniques he uses on the high fence land out onto public land with the help of the hunting population, then this just might work.
However, I think that it would have been better to appoint a WI native biologist, who is more familiar with the situation as the trustee. It would have at least of resonated better with rest of the WI hunting population, if not garnered more support for the coming changes. I look forward to seeing how this pans out in the future and the articles I expect to see about it in later issues of F&S

Happy Huntings
-GSD

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bioguy01 wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

I have met and conversed with 2 out of the 3 biologists on this "dream team," and read enough papers by the third to know that he is intimately knowledgeable about deer. Say what you will, but these guys collectively have over 100 years of wildlife management experience, all of them have PhDs, and all of them have managed deer all and contributed significantly to deer management all over the country. If Wisconsin hunters do not trust these guys, then there's not a deer biologist alive that they would trust.

-4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dances with Deer wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

Trust Dr. Dough? Hmm ..... Alt, maybe. Guynn, don't know much about him. A couple bad winters, excessive doe harvest via EAB through 2008 and probably wolves, bears and coyotes all played a role in reducing Wisconsin's kill but it's still, as Scott more or less said, among the best in the country in quality and quantity. You will NEVER please everyone even if you promised a trophy buck behind every tree. Some will want two! Kroll is wrong on CWD's infection rate. While it certainly hasn't eradicated the herd, it has grown substantially in the core area through the years. But I agree time to back off on some of the CWD overkill and just manage and monitor. He's big on criticizing DNR for CWD, its population estimates and "not working with hunters" but bottom line is mild winters and hunters controlling their trigger fingers in years when the does aren't abundant is all it'll take to get the herd booming again in most areas. From what I've seen in southern farmland this spring and summer, it's going to be a big harvest year no matter what Doc Deer spins.

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from dtownley wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

Having watched youngsters become Ph.ds(29yrs), it does not guarantee honesty, competency, ect. Hunting is about ethics and when Dr.'s are not ethicly sound we call it malpractice. Like written above only time will tell.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DennyF wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Anyone who would trust Gary Alt after all the deciet that occurred in Pennsylvania would be a moron.

He is the #1 most hated man in Pennsylvania history. And the program is a failure to this day. Of course they can claim success as much as they like in some obscure article.

None of the previous claims came about. Hunter retention and recruitment as well as satisfaction overall is in the gutter still to this day, and we dont have a big buck behind every tree as promised.

Alt was a pawn here, behind the governors agenda to kill off the deer herd for several reasons, none of which were improving the states hunting.

He is serving the exact same purpose in Wisconsin, along with mr commercialized doctor-deer, who would be willing to offer up whatever necessary to make a few more bucks and gain a little more notoriety.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from DennyF wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

You funny biguy. Alt has no credibility at all in Pa, or probably anywhere else unless its among the powers that be that wish to utilize him as a tool to further their agendas. He is the most despised deer manager in the nation and least trusted. That is undeniable truth. To say if someone does trust him, they wont trust anyone is about as ridiculous as it gets. Although some from other states who dont follow national news or that have lived under a rock for the last 15 years might not be aware.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from tyty wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Gary Alt admitted to being a political puppet. If he is involved wisconsin is in trouble.

Count on it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report

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from DennyF wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Anyone who would trust Gary Alt after all the deciet that occurred in Pennsylvania would be a moron.

He is the #1 most hated man in Pennsylvania history. And the program is a failure to this day. Of course they can claim success as much as they like in some obscure article.

None of the previous claims came about. Hunter retention and recruitment as well as satisfaction overall is in the gutter still to this day, and we dont have a big buck behind every tree as promised.

Alt was a pawn here, behind the governors agenda to kill off the deer herd for several reasons, none of which were improving the states hunting.

He is serving the exact same purpose in Wisconsin, along with mr commercialized doctor-deer, who would be willing to offer up whatever necessary to make a few more bucks and gain a little more notoriety.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from DennyF wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

You funny biguy. Alt has no credibility at all in Pa, or probably anywhere else unless its among the powers that be that wish to utilize him as a tool to further their agendas. He is the most despised deer manager in the nation and least trusted. That is undeniable truth. To say if someone does trust him, they wont trust anyone is about as ridiculous as it gets. Although some from other states who dont follow national news or that have lived under a rock for the last 15 years might not be aware.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from dtownley wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Good luck with this Wisconsin, Texas has 1.3 million acres of public land up for hunting. I am trying to score deer on it, they are there but over population dosen't show well with poachers biteing at these animals heels. TPW offers a lot but I have yet to see the numbers other than on private property. When I arrived from Michigan in 1983 I had high hopes for TX its huge, when I hit the woods, it was where are they ? Private property was a good place to get run over by deer, I have seen and hunted it,(ranchers) the men & women protect deer dirt at all costs.
4.5 + million deer and we would be lucky most years to kill near 500K of them, these TPW folks ain't figured it out or a fish story is being told. Out of state hunters would be making these ranchers, bankers if they would lower out of state licenses fees,'cause these folks would not be going to the National Forest for deer, it would be private property where the BIG BONES are at, not the Nat'l Forest. Hell I've been wrong before but like when I saved myself from MI., I left my favorite critter...Mr Whitetail hopeing his Southern Cousin would fill the void and the reward was great(I settle but I don't know who else will). All them folks from Wisconsin don't want to come to TX. to hunt deer they have deer up there. If it ain't right here, why should Wisconsiners get caught in a DEER CZAR TIME WARP ? Watch out for them fishing stories Wisconsin, IMO, a serious national forest needs to keep a close eye out for Wisconsins best interests...the HERD. If he came from out State to tell you your business don't let him out of your sight and question everything.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from rose0660 wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Being a Wisconsin native and an avid deer hunter, bringing in a guy from Texas to tell the state how to manage the deer herd is absurd. I cannot trust anyone who while driving to his private HIGH FENCED spread of 200 acres, “game management is the last bastion of communism.” I don’t want to turn this into politics, but Walker claiming to be a deer hunter, I’m not sure if I’ll want to venture into any woods he may be in with a gun. I can’t trust a deer hunter, who on the Wisconsin fishing opener is photographed holding a spinning reel upside down.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from tyty wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Gary Alt admitted to being a political puppet. If he is involved wisconsin is in trouble.

Count on it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

roseo is spot on.
the deeer czar has called national parks "wildlife ghettos". he has called hunters asking for more public land socialists. he says the north american model of wildlife management is communism. the editor of deer and deer hunting magazine has written a couple nice pieces about the deer czar on their website. everyone should check it out. specifically the fact that his first report was filled with errors and misinformation.

scott and field and stream: I am EXTREMELY surprised you would write an article like this about someone who is so opposed to public lands and is all about the high fence world. It was very shocking coming from this magazine

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dtownley wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Wisc14, don't be surprised, be glad for the exposure, I am in TX and yes I miss them big corneaters...uh until I have to drag one out, then I am glad I have 5 little one tags. When folks from the North get someone from the South to look over their deer herd the sh1t gets personal. Our deer ain't perfect here Mr. Deer Dr. ? Kiss my... it takes National Forest hunters to know about Nat'l Forest deer...NOT RANCH DEER, they are different, pursued different, dealt with different, they(ranch deer) are treated like babies here. Write your DNR and find out what they are trying to prove with TX comeing up North. I know Michigan has big deer biologist over there... where in Sam Hills name are those educated WI. deer biologists ? Are Game Departments Members of a Union ? Or Who's Union Does Your Game Department Work For ? Hunters pay good money to know whats going on within their Game Department! H3LL what do I know I just want to eat healthy dead ones. Go on and burn the house down

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dtownley wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

Having watched youngsters become Ph.ds(29yrs), it does not guarantee honesty, competency, ect. Hunting is about ethics and when Dr.'s are not ethicly sound we call it malpractice. Like written above only time will tell.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Maybe once he has wisconsin fixed he can head south to Illinois and fix the travesty that is our DNR.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from GrandSlamDreamer wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

This situation is something that unfortunately only time will be able to tell us if it was a good move or not. It is known that Kroll has advocated for high fence property and that doesn't sit well with many people, myself included. But with that being said, he advocates the high fences because of how it enables people to better tend to a deer populations needs, by tweaking private land habitat. His methods have proven to work in the past and I can understand why someone would appoint Dr. Kroll as a trustee, especially given the dire situation WI seems to be in. If he can get the funding to implement the same techniques he uses on the high fence land out onto public land with the help of the hunting population, then this just might work.
However, I think that it would have been better to appoint a WI native biologist, who is more familiar with the situation as the trustee. It would have at least of resonated better with rest of the WI hunting population, if not garnered more support for the coming changes. I look forward to seeing how this pans out in the future and the articles I expect to see about it later issues of F&S

Happy Huntings
-GSD

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from GrandSlamDreamer wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

This situation is something that unfortunately only time will be able to tell us if it was a good move or not. It is known that Kroll has advocated for high fence property and that doesn't sit well with many people, myself included. But with that being said, he advocates the high fences because of how it enables people to better tend to a deer populations needs, by tweaking private land habitat. His methods have proven to work in the past and I can understand why someone would appoint Dr. Kroll as a trustee, especially given the dire situation WI seems to be in. If he can get the funding to implement the same techniques he uses on the high fence land out onto public land with the help of the hunting population, then this just might work.
However, I think that it would have been better to appoint a WI native biologist, who is more familiar with the situation as the trustee. It would have at least of resonated better with rest of the WI hunting population, if not garnered more support for the coming changes. I look forward to seeing how this pans out in the future and the articles I expect to see about it in later issues of F&S

Happy Huntings
-GSD

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dances with Deer wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

Trust Dr. Dough? Hmm ..... Alt, maybe. Guynn, don't know much about him. A couple bad winters, excessive doe harvest via EAB through 2008 and probably wolves, bears and coyotes all played a role in reducing Wisconsin's kill but it's still, as Scott more or less said, among the best in the country in quality and quantity. You will NEVER please everyone even if you promised a trophy buck behind every tree. Some will want two! Kroll is wrong on CWD's infection rate. While it certainly hasn't eradicated the herd, it has grown substantially in the core area through the years. But I agree time to back off on some of the CWD overkill and just manage and monitor. He's big on criticizing DNR for CWD, its population estimates and "not working with hunters" but bottom line is mild winters and hunters controlling their trigger fingers in years when the does aren't abundant is all it'll take to get the herd booming again in most areas. From what I've seen in southern farmland this spring and summer, it's going to be a big harvest year no matter what Doc Deer spins.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bioguy01 wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

I have met and conversed with 2 out of the 3 biologists on this "dream team," and read enough papers by the third to know that he is intimately knowledgeable about deer. Say what you will, but these guys collectively have over 100 years of wildlife management experience, all of them have PhDs, and all of them have managed deer all and contributed significantly to deer management all over the country. If Wisconsin hunters do not trust these guys, then there's not a deer biologist alive that they would trust.

-4 Good Comment? | | Report

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