The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will be sticking with its new online and phone-in deer registration next year, despite controversy swirling around the agency’s numbers, which show a higher deer harvest in the North amid conflicting reports from the field.
According to the DNR, the Northern Forest Zone’s buck harvest this year increased by 30 percent from 2015. The DNR’s website attributes the increase to two consecutive mild winters and limited antlerless tags, and some agency officials say the numbers are proof the northern herd is recovering.
Reports flowing into The Times paint a different picture than the optimistic one Wallenfang presented.
Buck contests in the North, for example, were generally down in their numbers, some by as much as 50 percent, while spot checks of meat processing centers were reporting no significant change, and some taxidermists, too, reported lower numbers. To cite just one specific example, the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunt Challenge deer kill was down 78 percent after 13 seasons of consistency in the numbers.
In addition, many say the higher DNR numbers for the North don’t comport with lower numbers reported in the southern part of the state.
Those numbers and reports, while they do not include everyone, are widespread in the North, and they raise concerns about the accuracy of the online and phone registration systems. Some callers have reported people killing does and registering them as bucks, as well as attempts to inflate kill numbers to suggest a recovered herd and relieve political pressure to delist the gray wolf.
I think that most of us can agree that we want the numbers to be accurate. We can’t effectively manage the herd without accurate data. Personally, I like the online registration. It’s easy. I killed my deer this year and had it registered before I hung it up. As a general rule, when we make regulations easier to comply with, we tend to get better compliance. That’s just human nature. If it is a pain in the butt to comply, more people are likely to “forget” or refuse.
What some of these folks are suggesting is that some activists may be falsely registering deer in order to inflate the reported harvest to take political pressure off of delisting the gray wolf. That seems like quite a stretch. And to do it, it means that wolf activists would have to buy deer licenses and falsely register deer. While I don’t rule out the possibility that a few folks did this, I find it hard to believe that any did it in significant enough numbers to inflate the reported harvest by 30%. Plus, to pull off a widespread fraud like that, one would think that hunters would have caught wind of it on social media somewhere.
In this case, I’ll adhere to Occam’s razor. The reason that the deer kill is up in northern Wisconsin is because hunters killed more deer. The second most likely explanation is that the reported harvest is up because compliance is greater with the online registration process being easier.