DNR stalks the human element hunters' opinions


February 13, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Three years ago, realizing that hunters were not effectively controlling the numbers of deer in many areas of the state, the Department of Natural Resources started looking hard for hunting solutions to population control.

Among the options were an early black powder season, an additional January season for modern firearms or an extension of the traditional one-week firearms season that starts in November.

Two years ago, the traditional season for modern firearms was extended to two weeks, and now, with the deer population still expanding in all but the western counties, it is possible that DNR will move quickly toward a black powder season Oct. 20-22.

An early black powder season causes some concern among modern firearms hunters and bow hunters. Could this new season have an adverse impact on opening day for modern firearms a month later, or would the new, three-day season take unduly from the bowhunters, who prize the days from late October until the first Saturday after Thanksgiving?

In both cases, the modern firearms hunter and the bow hunter probably stand to lose some ground.

But the two more important questions are whether the deer management program needs more hunting pressure and whether licensed Maryland hunters want that increase in pressure to be in the form of an early muzzleloader season.

DNR's Wildlife Division obviously believes that more hunting pressure is necessary except perhaps in the mountainous regions of the western counties, where the deer population has been stabilized.

To determine what hunters want, last autumn DNR paiResponsive Management, a national public survey organization, to survey licensed hunters in Maryland because public meetings during the past few years had sent mixed messages to game managers.

"Although public information meetings are a good way to get an idea of how people feel, I usually feel that at those meetings those who are either very supportive or adamantly against those proposals are usually the ones we hear from," said Joshua Sandt, director of DNR's Wildlife Division. "We don't hear from that 'silent majority' out there."

Enter Responsive Management, which, during the past 10 years, has completed more than 50 surveys for 40 wildlife or environmental organizations from the Canadian Wildlife Service to the Florida Fish and Game Commission and is a consultant to Gallup for similar surveys.

The goals set for Responsive Management by DNR were:

* To seek advice from and understand hunters' perceptions and opinions of current deer hunting seasons in the state.

* To seek support from an advisory groups representing bow hunters, black powder hunters and modern firearms hunters on questions and methods to be used to survey hunters.

* To conduct a scientifically and politically acceptable random sample telephone survey to better understand and define hunters' opinions, knowledge and attitudes toward the season structures.

* To assist DNR in developing acceptable and equitable seasons for all user groups.

Mark Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, said recently, "There are three phases to wildlife management -- first is wildlife population, second is wildlife habitat and the third is human population."

Departments of natural resources everywhere spend large sums for improved wildlife populations and premium habitat and base their spendings largely on scientific method.

"But when it comes to that third element, people, the human dimension, we sort of guess a lot of the time," Duda said. "[But] we can study people in the same deliberate and scientific way that we study wildlife species and habitat."

To study the hunting public, Duda said, one must first understand that there is "no such thing as the general public" or even a general hunter.

People who live in rural areas think differently about wildlife thado people in urban or suburban areas. Older citizens think

differently about wildlife than do people who are 25 to 40 years old. Women think differently about wildlife than do men.

There are meat hunters, trophy hunters and those who hunt for what Duda calls "the naturalistic experience."

"And we can verify that through surveys," Duda said. "That it is not this one sort of homogeneous public out there."

While the survey of licensed hunters looked at many issues, the "heart of the questionnaire," Duda said, was the matter of an early black powder season, its length, its placement in the hunting calendar and whether both antlered and antlerless deer should be hunted.

Hunters surveyed were selected by going through file cabinets at DNR that were filled with copies of current hunting licenses and pulling every 60th name for a potential sample pool of 1,820 hunters. After a postcard mailing to that sample pool and a follow-up mailing, 633 hunters met the requirements as part of a telephone survey.

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