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Area 154 goes lottery

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There seems to be some concern with some hunters now that hunters know that this permit area will be Lottery for the 2008 season. After five years of either Intensive or Management where hunters could tag more than one deer, it is understandable that this change may not be welcomed by all. So why this change?

First, let's look at some of the history of this permit area and the advent of three types of permit area regulations. Prior to 2003, all permit areas were lottery or perhaps bucks only depending on the population level. With lottery, a certain number of antlerless permits were made available depending upon what we wanted the population to do.

After the severe winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, permit numbers were restricted for a few years but were gradually increased as populations in the various permit areas increased. We will look at PA 154 from 1999 on as that was the year that we made major changes to permit area boundaries.

Prior to 1999, PA 154 was generally the area south of Hwy 210 and west of Hwy. 47 and encompassed some 174 square miles. It is now some 760 square miles bounded by County Road 3 on the north over to Hwy. 169, south to Hwy. 210, east to Hwy. 65, south to Hwy. 18, and then west to Mille Lacs Lake. These changes were made in an attempt to follow ecological subsections. However, we need to have well defined boundaries such as roads but they do not always follow subsection boundaries. As is the case with PA 154, the north boundary is on County Road 3 because there is nothing south of there to use.

Beginning in 1999, with the new PA 154, 4,563 hunters applied for 1,200 antlerless permits offered and 960 antlerless deer were registered. By 2002, the deer population steadily increased with mild winters and good habitat. That year 6,500 permits were offered but only 5,118 hunters applied. Those permit holders registered 2,863 deer. Clearly the lottery system was not getting the job done by harvesting enough antlerless deer to reduce the population down to goal levels.

In 2003 Managed and Intensive Harvest strategies were added to the Lottery Permit Area designations. This allowed hunters to purchase bonus permits to take up to 2 deer in a Managed Permit Area and up to 5 deer in an Intensive Permit Area. It also meant that all licenses were either sex licenses if a hunter was hunting in a Managed or Intensive Permit Area.

In 2003 the original designation for PA 154 was Managed but then chronic wasting disease was discovered in the elk herd southwest of Aitkin. Due to that, PA 154 was changed from Managed to Intensive so that we would be pro-active in reducing the herd and stopping the spread of CWD if it was found to be in deer. Luckily it was not.

During the 2003 deer season, the antlerless harvest in PA 154 increased 27 percent to 3,646 deer and has been decreasing each year since then and down to 2,617 in the 2007 season. The purpose then for Intensive and Managed designations was to reduce the deer herd down to the population goal for a given Permit Area which we have now reached in PA 154. Actually, according to the population model, we are below the goal that was established through a public process a few years ago. This process established the pre-fawn goal at 17 deer per square mile and the model indicates that the pre-fawn level was 15 deer per square mile this spring. Our recommendation from the field for PA 154 was to go lottery for this fall and make available 3,000 antlerless permits. With 3,000 antlerless permits and if we assume a Winter Severity Index of 100 for this winter the population model predicts a harvest of 1,400 antlerless deer and 1,600 bucks and will stabilize the population.

I'm sure it is hard for some to understand this change when there appears to be a lot of deer out there. As stated, the pre-fawn goal is 17 and the model indicates it is at 15 deer per square mile. That's a pre-fawn number so since June 1, fawns have been born, mortality has occurred (car kills, predator kills, etc.) so right now there could be upwards of 27 deer per square mile. The model indicates that by the opening of the deer season, there should be around an average of 22 deer per square mile (about 5 bucks and 17 antlerless per square mile). Obviously deer are not evenly distributed over the entire area so what you might see now or during the hunting season can be much higher or lower than that.

The model is the best we have to work with. While the numbers may not be what's actually out there, it clearly indicates a downward trend in the population so we need to react to that. Perhaps we could have gone with Managed again (which we did last year instead of Lottery) and then get a severe winter that would really set us back and have severely restricted antlerless permits for several years. PA 154 is therefore lottery this year with 3,000 permits being available. If you hunt PA 154, remember to apply for an antlerless permit by Thu., Sept. 4.

Dave Dickey is DNR Area Wildlife manager.

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