Deer management committee urges 1,100 more tags for 2017 season

KAGAWONG—Deer populations based on fall 2016 hunt data have been stable to increasing since 2010, it was learned at the annual deer management committee meeting held in Kagawong last week. There was general agreement at the meeting to implement tag increases for 2017 in Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 43B (from Burpee and Mills east) from 4,900 to 6,000 (an additional 1,100 tags) and status quo (400 tags) for 43A, stated Wayne Selinger, management biologist for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

Two back to back harsh winters in 2014 and 2015 followed by two milder winters (2016 and 2017) played a part in this decision.

Approximately 30 people attended the annual meeting hosted by the MNRF. Some of the hot topics included implementation of mandatory reporting for deer hunters, crop damage in 43B, automatic antlerless tags for Manitoulin farmers and the always controversial baiting practices of some hunters. 

Representation at the annual meeting included farmers, municipal reeves and mayors (or designate), members of the Gore Bay and Little Current Fish and Game Clubs, Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Manitoulin Streams, Conservation Officers (retired and current), and Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

“The meeting went quite well this year,” stated Mr. Selinger following the April 26 gathering at the Kagawong Park Centre.

Mr. Selinger reported on hunter success, harvest trends and check station statistics.

Statistics dating back as far as 2003 were highlighted. That year saw a spike in harvested antlerless deer. A bad winter several years later, in 2009, ended the trend. A reported increase from 2010 to 2012 turned the numbers around.

“Hunter success reported in 43A saw a general decline over the last 15 to 20 years,” shared Mr. Selinger. “It started to come back up a bit, and then dipped back down. It has been pretty stable the last four to five years.”

WMU 43B saw a decrease between 2008 and 2010 level out with figures creeping back up due to buck harvests and tag filing numbers down.

Harvest trends in 43A have had a long term decline and continues to be low historically. This is habitat related and due to a harsh 2014 winter season, the committee learned. The number is climbing gradually and has “optimistically levelled out,” Mr. Selinger said.

The 43B harvest saw the buck harvest come up due to the increased number of tags.

The Espanaola check station reported fewer hunters coming through than in previous years. The dressed weight of fawns “came way up, which is odd,” shared Mr. Selinger, “considering the drought experienced last year. Yearling weights indicated the deer were in excellent condition.”

Mandatory reporting of harvested deer through an MNRF mail survey program is undergoing review. “The request for mandatory reporting,” stated Mr. Selinger, “will be relayed to the MNRF staff involved.”

“The ongoing issue of crop damage in 43B has been increasing in localized areas,” he continued. “The current management objectives for WMU 43B is to maintain (not grow) the population. Antlerless tags are being increased to limit population growth. Deer removal authorizations can be used to mitigate legitimate damage to high value crops.”

Request of automatic antlerless tags for Manitoulin farmers is something Mr. Selinger and his office is aware of but such a change, he noted, “is a matter of provincial policy; the request has been forwarded to Wildlife Policy Section.” The current position on the matter is that while farmers are eligible to purchase a licence at a reduced cost, the deer tag draw system is designed to ensure equitable distribution of tags regardless of land ownership, status or occupation. There is no mechanism for a farmer to automatically quality for an anterless deer tag.

“Everyone is feeding deer,” noted one frustrated hunter. “When you’re sitting over a bait pile, it can create some nasty diseases, like CWD (chronic waste disease).” There have not been any reported cases in the area, however all five states that (land) border Ontario have.

Support to increase the number of tags was received by Lee Hayden, reeve of Gordon/Barrie Island, Bill Orford and Rick Campbell of the OFA and Doug Hore of the Little Current Fish and Game Club. No one in attendance was opposed.