Deer numbers still high, so season extension eyed

On the Outdoors

December 21, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

State wildlife managers expect the totals from the two-week firearms hunting season for deer that ended Dec. 13 to be among the top five on record.

However, the number of deer in many areas of the state are above population levels sought by the Department of Natural Resources and a two-day extension of the season has been proposed for Jan. 9-10 in 18 counties.

Michael Slattery, recently appointed director of DNR's Wildlife Division, said last week that the two-day extension in all counties east of Carroll is necessary in agricultural areas and on the fringes of outer suburban areas.

If approved by the General Assembly's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, the two-day extension will be for antlerless deer only. Both sika and white-tailed deer could be hunted.

Hunters who did not fill their tags or firearms bonus stamps would be eligible to hunt.

Slattery said reports of crop and property damage and vehicle collisions with deer continue to increase in most areas of the state, and all are indications that deer populations are still on the rise. He said DNR's best estimate is that the deer population in Maryland exceeds 300,000.

L. Douglas Hotton, head of the state's deer management program, said recently that deer numbers in the western parts of the state are stable or increasing slightly. In many eastern areas, he said, the population is expanding at a significantly higher rate.

"Hunting is the best management tool we have," said Slattery, "and culling more does from the herd is the whole idea of this hunt."

In areas of the state that provide good habitat for deer, does often produce twins or triplets, Hotton said.

In effect, a good reproductive year can surpass the total kill in firearms, muzzleloader and bow seasons the previous year.

In January of this year, a two-day extension of the firearms season resulted in more than 2,000 additional antlerless deer killed by hunters.

"That is almost irrelevant in these [eastern] counties," said Slattery. "How big a dent we made is difficult to say, because it is not just a matter of numbers.

"But because [the two-day extension] is just does, in those counties it was more of a dent than if we had not done it."

The deer census is an inexact process, Slattery said. The estimates in localized areas can be built from accident and crop and property damage reports and flyovers with infrared imaging equipment.

"But census work in the broader sense across the state is from the hunting seasons," Slattery added, "and in many ways that only tells us the extent of hunting pressure and the rate of success."

In an effort to more tightly control the deer populations, DNR is in the process of revamping its management plan for deer. Slattery said the new plan will more aggressively attack the deer problem, and hunting will remain the primary management tool.

"The No. 1 component of the plan is to adopt strategies for better hunter access to private land," he said. "We want to get hunters into the areas where the deer are."

While nearly 90 percent of the annual kill comes from private land, Slattery said most often family groups and close friends can be expected to hunt most tracts.

"Landowners understandably are not always eager to let people hunt their land," Slattery said. "Through the plan, we hope to build stronger bridges between landowners and the hunting community."

Slattery said the new plan, which is expected to be completed and ready for initial public review in mid-January, also could liberalize bag limits and restructure the bonus stamp system.

The plan also will provide for population control in areas where hunting is not feasible.

"It is a very ambitious plan," said Slattery, "and implementation will be resource intensive, both in terms of personnel and finances."

After the plan has been completed, DNR will schedule public meetings to discuss it with hunters, landowners and other interested parties.

Slattery said early feedback on the plan shows "good citizen support for it and most aspects seem to appeal to most hunters and the public."

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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