Criticism of DNR's management of deer season not warranted


December 27, 1992|By LONNY WEAVER

To paraphrase Laurel and Hardy, "Robert, what a fine mess you've gotten us into this time."

Robert, in this instance, is Robert Boyer, who runs Harvey's General Store on the outskirts of Taneytown. This popular establishment has, for a number of years, served as an official deer-checking station for Carroll County.

The fine mess concerns a Dec. 14 front-page article in The Sun in which Boyer flatly states that the Department of Natural Resources mismanaged a deer season that smashed all previous deer season figures, both in Carroll County and the state.

The mess got even messier last week when an editorial, relying on Boyer's assertions, concluded that "large numbers of these wild animals will either starve or further encroach on human environs in order to survive this winter;" that "amateur hunting may be good business for the state . . . but it is not good game management."

Pardon me, but all of this is very bitter grapes.

This year, Carroll hunters bagged 2,200 deer during the expanded two-week modern firearms (rifle) season. That was the sixth best in Maryland, following Allegany's 3,179, Washington County's 2,957, Frederick County's 2,933, Garrett's 2,526 and Dorchester's 2,357. Last year Carroll County ranked seventh in the state. In 1991, it ranked fifth. This is mismanagement?

Consider also, a few facts about last year's hunt, which based on historic evidence, should hold true again this year when all of the data has been tabulated. Garrett County was tops in 1991, but 23 percent of the bag was taken on public lands. The second-best county was Allegany, but 40 percent of the 2,978 deer taken there during the rifle season fell on public land. The other percentages were 13.5 percent in Washington (No. 3), 11.5 percent in Frederick (No. 4), 7.5 percent in Worcester (No. 5) and 6 percent in Kent County. Twenty-three of Carroll's 1,729 deer were taken on public lands (eight at Hanover Watershed and 15 at Spiegel/Saw Mill Coop.).

What all of this means is that this county probably has one of the highest (if not the highest) deer hunting success rates in the state because practically all the hunting takes place on private lands. No matter how you cut it, the local deer kill will not materially increase here beyond this year's 2,200 because hunting access is severely limited compared to counties with large tracts of public lands.

This is the fault of the DNR?

"Actually we are very pleased with the results in Carroll County this year," DNR Director of Wildlife Josh Sandt says. He also believes that "Carroll County is probably very close to it's maximum harvest level due to the private-land access problem. On the other hand, we feel that for the time being, we have indeed managed to essentially stabilize the growth of the deer herd there, which as you know, has been our stated goal for a number of years."

This is mismanagement? This is a threat of massive deer starvation? This is a failure of amateur hunting?

Boyer and the writer of the subsequent editorial also believe that the two-week season featured "no stretch of bad weather." Well, at my Westminster-area home it rained buckets on Dec. 2, 9, 10, 11 and 12. On Dec. 3, it didn't rain, but it blew so hard that a neighbor's rain gutter ended up in my front lawn. That's six of 13 hunting days according to my count, including two of the three Saturdays, that were complete busts.

Sandt says, "what you really get with a two-week hunt are three Saturdays and we lost all but one of them. Not too many people hunt during the week. And don't forget that the rain you had in Carroll County was as much as 36 inches of snow in western Maryland."

This was a DNR management failure?

"In my opinion," Boyer is quoted in the Dec. 14 article, "what the DNR is doing is instituting bad hunting practices, especially for young hunters. If a young hunter knows he has to kill a buck, he'll stop and look to see if it is a buck." His sister, Beth then added, "It's been rather disgusting. There are a lot of small deer coming in."

Carroll hunters were allowed to take two deer this year, but one had to be a doe. That was instituted by the DNR only after extensive hearings last spring and with the consent of the majority of state and local sportsman's organizations and various landowner and farm groups.

Over the course of nearly 14 years of writing an outdoors column for area readers, I have been critical of the Department of Natural Resources on many occasions. I have taken them to task over fresh and saltwater fishing problems and polices, declines in waterfowl and upland game as well as seemingly political decisions that did not serve the interests of our resources or sportsmen.

But they deserve a "well done," regarding the nearly yearly record-breaking deer seasons we have enjoyed, not a slap in the face.

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