Sometimes You Win One


DNR Reverses Deer Population Policy, Set 33 Years Ago, In Face Of Intense Public Pressure

By Victor Rip

This April – after intense repeated outcries against urban deer hunts in West Virginia, and after my own scathing article about destructive DNR deer policies (and perhaps in face of a proposed bill in the WV Legislature to cap deer herds? mentioned in a letter to the editor in the local newspaper) – the Natural Resources Commission was forced to consider major deer population changes proposed by the the WV Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in February.

The Charleston Gazette reports that:

“Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the DNR, called the [DNR] plan “a major retooling” of the DNR’s approach to deer management.”

…”DNR officials set future deer-population goals at 20 to 35 deer per square mile, depending upon forest type, human population density and other factors. Herd levels in the most overpopulated counties currently range between 60 and 100 deer per square mile.”

For decades, DNR policy grew the state-wide deer herd, attempting to average 40 deer per square mile, to benefit hunters – at the expense of farmers, the timber industry, the safety of people on the roads, crash insurance premiums, people who prioritize non-violence, and the health of wildlife and the deer themselves. This reported DNR policy change of reducing and capping deer herds between 20 and 35 deer per square mile essentially abolishes and reverses the old destructive policy.

As I explained in my July 2011 articleNew Dark Ages“:

The 1995 [West Virginia] state deer report [“Negative Impacts of High Deer Population”] finds that ”The increase in the deer herd is attributable in part to the primary objectives of DNR: increasing the deer population to a level that will support the harvesting of 183,000 per year by the year 2000. This will require a deer population of 40 deer per square mile” even though “generally accepted scientific research has found that deer in populations over 20 deer per square mile harms forests…” 

This February and April, with no telling context, some state officials claimed that the reason for this major policy shift was due to “the overall habitat quality in the state” declining, being able to support fewer deer, while others officials merely stated that deer populations are too large. Yes, they are, due to long-standing state policies that have been harmful for decades.

For decades, the state officials and agencies did not care, apparently and evidently, about the widespread harm that their deer policies wrought, not until the public uproar became big enough to professionally threaten these officials and their agencies by way of (at the least): 1) a public call for legal action against the responsible state agencies, 2) the exposure of public research that professionally discredits state officials and agencies, and 3) a growing and an active public outrage against urban deer hunts – all of which the state officials and agencies brought upon themselves.

Voila!: come February 2012, a “major retooling” plan of deer management by the state DNR, and action based upon this plan by the Natural Resources Commission a few weeks ago.

Seems obvious that the DNR reversed its decades-old deer population policy this year due to public pressure and the public outrage generated in large part by West Virginia city proposals for urban deer hunts, especially in Morgantown, though it seems the DNR will be last to admit this, and the monied media will be last to report it.

This policy shift, “major retooling,” represents a step in a responsible direction regarding deer populations but unfortunately reportedly pushes only the most brutal method of deer herd reduction and maintenance – hunting – while failing to move toward or implement any reported habitat management efforts to reduce and maintain lower deer populations.

As such, the DNR approach is crude and bloody, ripe for severe criticism and continued outrage. The DNR’s badly needed policy change setting better goals (though far from most appropriate – still too large) for responsible deer herd sizes is very much cruder, potentially ineffective, and bloodier for lacking greater statewide and locally-focused deer habitat management. Thus, more and continued public pressure is necessary.

And why not? It’s what ought to be done. And after all, sometimes you win one.

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