Crunching the numbers
Data entry usually wraps up around mid-January. After Tucker cleans the information, which usually requires a few days, he sends the accumulated databases to the DNR's game management staff and to all the district biologists.
In late January, the management team meets to pore over the mountain of accumulated data. Gary Foster, the DNR's game management supervisor, explained the process.
"There's a lot that goes into it," he said. "For each county - and sometimes for different parts of counties - we look at the number of bucks killed per square mile, which we consider our index overall deer numbers. We also look at the available habitat, the number of crop-damage permits being issued, the number of deer-vehicle collisions that have taken place, population data from our spotlight surveys, and deer-health information gathered from our biological check stations."
The key number is the buck kill per square mile. The DNR's deer-management plan assigns each county a target harvest rate that usually ranges from 3.0 to 3.5 bucks per square mile, but can be lower for counties with poor habitat.
To keep unusual weather or mast conditions from creating wild, year-to-year swings in deer regulations, agency biologists average the results of the past two buck seasons and base their management decisions on those numbers.
"So, if we have a goal of 3.5 bucks per square mile and hunters are harvesting 5.0, we know the population in that county is too high and that the next season's antlerless-deer regulations for that county should be more liberal," Foster explained.
"On the other hand, if the goal is 3.5 and we're harvesting 2.5, we know we may need to be more restrictive on the antlerless-deer regulations."
A computer spreadsheet does the biologists' heaviest lifting.
"It compares the two-year buck-harvest average as it relates to our buck-harvest objective for the county," Foster said. "Then it uses a population growth curve to determine how many antlerless deer need to be harvested to bring the population in line with our objective."
The devil, as always, is in the details, and the DNR's game management staff spend days adjusting and tweaking the regulations based on any special circumstances that might exist in a given county.
The final steps
Decisions have to be made quickly. The DNR's recommendations for each fall's antlerless-season regulations must be ready in time for the Natural Resources Commission's midwinter meeting. This year's meeting is scheduled for Feb. 23.
After the commission meeting, DNR officials take the proposals before the public at a series of mid-March "sectional meetings." Members of the commission take input from hunters and landowners into account before they approve, disapprove or tweak the DNR's recommendations. The commission's vote on the proposals always takes place at its spring meeting, usually held in late April or early May.
"From end to end, the process takes six months," said assistant wildlife chief Johansen. "But the time between the end of December and the commission meeting is when most of the action takes place. It takes a lot of work from a lot of people, but every year we manage to get it done."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.