Buck in velvet

A buck with antlers in velvet stands in woods near Seeley in the summer of 2020.

The Sawyer County Deer Advisory Committee (CDAC) met Dec. 14 via conference phone to set preliminary deer herd population goals for the next three years, and recommended that the goal should be to “maintain” the current population.

The CDAC viewed a video by Josh Spiegel, Sawyer County DNR wildlife biologist. He said that compared to farmland areas, the northern forest has harsher winters, a more diverse predator base and maturing habitat that does not always offer deer optimal food and cover.

The CDAC’s goal is “a balanced deer herd,” Spiegel said. This offers a chance for hunters to see and harvest deer, reduce agricultural and forest damage, and keep enough deer on the landscape to sustain the population at a healthy level.

Sawyer County has 1,114 square miles of deer range. Public lands make up 53% of the total land area of the county, and private lands 47%. There is also managed forest land open to hunting.

Hunters harvested 867 bucks in Sawyer County during the 2020 nine-day gun season, a 3.5% increase over the number of bucks taken during the 2019 nine-day season. Hunters also harvested 829 antlerless deer in the county during the nine-day season in 2020.

To date, no wild or captive deer in Sawyer County have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

Spiegel said the birth ratio of fawns to does in 2018-19 was 85 fawns per 100 does, which is “a pretty stable trend” and consistent with the rest of northern Wisconsin. Over the past 17 years, the deer population has been “extremely variable, due to changing habitat, overwinter stress, predation and different allotments for antlerless harvest” by hunters, he said.

Statistics show that buck harvest per square mile, ag damage, forestry impacts, deer population estimates and buck registrations have been increasing in the county. Meanwhile, car-deer collisions, fawn to doe ratios and hunter observations of deer have been trending down.

“Our contention is that ‘maintain’ the deer herd (recommendation) has the flexibility to go both ways,” said CDAC chairman Rick Olson. “In case we have a severe winter, that could be an increase (in the population), or if we have good winters and the herd is rebounding, then we could go to a decrease.”

The CDAC is still concerned about deer numbers in the forested areas of the county, Olson said. Therefore the committee likely will maintain a quota split between public and private lands, giving 75% to 80% of all the antlerless deer tags to hunters hunting private lands and 20% to 25% to hunters of public lands.

The Sawyer CDAC will explore other limiting factors on the deer herd, including predators and habitat, Olson added. “The habitat up here has changed so dramatically in the last 50 years, where food coming in after timber cuts or burns is not good deer food. New species taking over the heavily-browsed areas are ironwood and blue beech, which don’t have a lot of nutrients for deer. We’re losing our shoots of maple and popple to these invasives.”

The DNR will hold an online public comment period on each county’s deer population goals from Jan. 4-13. The CDACs will meet again Jan. 19-25 to set final objectives. The final objectives then will go to the Natural Resources Board for final action on Feb. 24.

Between March and May, the CDACs will meet again to discuss and recommend antlerless deer quotas for each county for the fall 2021 hunting seasons.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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