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DNR sets annual harvest goal: 200,000 deer

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has unveiled a new deer management plan, which establishes an annual statewide harvest target of 200,000 deer. (Duluth News Tribune file photo)

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday, April 9, unveiled a new deer management plan that agency officials say will promote citizen input, set a target goal for each year's deer harvest and keep habitat in good shape from the southern prairies to the north woods.

The plan establishes an annual statewide harvest target of 200,000 deer — just one of several performance measures outlined in the plan. It marks the first time the DNR has set a goal for how many deer that hunters should expect to shoot each year.

The DNR hopes that number is about right for hunters who want plentiful deer to shoot, and for other Minnesota residents concerned with a sometimes overabundance of whitetails that cause crashes on roadways, damage crops, stifle growth of white pines and carry a brainworm that's often fatal to moose.

The DNR will consider annual harvests of less than 200,000 as showing a need for more conservative regulations to rebuild deer populations in following years, meaning fewer doe or antlerless permits would be issued.

Harvests greater than 200,000 will suggest hunting regulations need to be relaxed so more deer are harvested in the next years to reduce populations.

That harvest goal is close to the 197,000 deer taken by both gun and bowhunters statewide in the 2017 season. It's far above the 139,000-deer harvest in 2014, after two harsh winters and when few doe permits were issued, and far below the nearly 300,000 deer harvested in 2003, the highest ever in Minnesota — a season that came after a string of warm winters and when large numbers of antlerless permits and bonus tags were issued to hunters.

Lacking any statewide population estimate, DNR officials say the hunter harvest is about the best measure of population trends over the long-term.

"The plan recognizes the diversity of interests, considers multiple objectives, and is informed by the best available science," said Leslie McInenly, DNR acting wildlife populations and programs manager. "It also factors in ways to reduce the negative impacts deer can have on people and the landscape."

McInenly said that while the statewide number is a goal, each region may have different outcomes because of other factors, such as harsh winters, that the DNR can't control. McInenly added that the plan doesn't address the details of specific regulations or operational issues in each zone or region of the state, but rather plots a long-term strategic direction for managing the herd.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association had lobbied for a harvest target of 225,000 deer annually, meaning more deer on the landscape each year so more can be shot. Craig Engwall, executive director of the association, said the group still supports the higher goal, which was based on a 15-year average.

"We still think that 225,000 is a good number to work for," Engwall said.

Public comments on the new deer management plan will be accepted through May 9 at mndnr.gov/deerplan.

Some 35 informational meetings are set across the state, including several in northeastern Minnesota. A meeting is scheduled for April 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the Two Harbors Area Wildlife Office. The public is welcome to arrive anytime in that two-hour window.