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Managing people is DNR's job

There are a lot of things I'd like to be, at least for a while.

Montana fishing guide comes immediately to mind. Professional golfer. In my crazier moments, maybe even a bobsledder.

Under no circumstances, though, would I want to be a Division of Natural Resources official this year.

As you can read elsewhere on this page, DNR biologists want to pretty dramatically change the state's antlerless-deer seasons, and the changes are mostly designed to reduce whitetail populations.

I don't think hunters want populations reduced, and that's why I wouldn't want to be a DNR official. From now until the Natural Resources Commission votes on the DNR's proposed changes later this year, agency administrators are going to field a lot of complaints.

They're used to it, of course, but that doesn't make it fun.

And that brings me to the point of this column: I'd like to dispel the myth that the DNR's main job is to manage wildlife.

It isn't.

DNR officials manage people. You. Me. Everyone who picks up a gun or a bow. We, in turn, help them to manage wildlife populations by killing more or fewer of the animals we choose to hunt.

Think about it. When deer or bear populations exceed the DNR's prescribed numbers, agency officials don't go out and kill of the excess. They manipulate the state's hunting regulations in a way that encourages, nudges, shoves or bludgeons the sportsmen of the state into killing enough animals to bring the population back under control.

Conversely, when game populations drop below desired levels, DNR officials don't use artificial insemination to ensure that enough new animals get born. They manipulate the regulations so that hunters kill fewer.

It's a balancing act, one that alternately makes sportsmen happy or aggravates the daylights out of them.

My guess is that the DNR's latest regulation proposals are going to aggravate more people than they please.

Savvy sportsmen probably anticipated at least slightly more liberal antlerless-deer regulations for the upcoming season. Dramatic rises and falls in the buck harvest always lead to changes, and last fall's 32 percent rise was a sure-fire cure that more liberal regulations would be proposed.

In past years, that wouldn't have been much of an issue. Sportsmen have grown accustomed to small year-to-year fluctuations in antlerless-deer regulations.

This year, though, just happened to be the year when DNR biologists drew up a spanking-new five-year Deer Operational Plan, one that is significantly different from all the others that were written between 1979 and the present.

The new plan took into account habitat data that hadn't previously been available. It also took into account some of the sociological factors involved in deer management, such as landowners' attitudes toward deer, effects on the forest products industry, effects on farmers and effects on vehicle owners. The plan's bottom line is that DNR officials want to further reduce deer populations throughout most of the state.

The engineer-slash-scientist in me understands why the DNR wants to do what the plan proposes. The writer-slash-public relations side of me wonders why they chose to initiate the plan this year, just two years removed from one of the most catastrophically wretched deer seasons in state history.

Managing people is difficult enough; managing irate people is quite another.


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