Management implications of an overpopulated white-tailed deer herd (Odocoileus virginianus) and the effects of the recently suspended Earn-a-Buck program in Wisconsin.
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Overpopulated deer herds can have serious implications on both the human and natural landscape. Among other things, uncontrolled deer numbers can increase the amount of deer-related accidents and increase the spread of various diseases. Wildlife officials aim to set deer population goals that will produce a healthy herd, a healthy ecosystem, and minimal damage complaints, while still providing good hunting opportunities. In order to help meet these goals, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources implemented their Earn-a-Buck program to increase the pressure to hunt antlerless deer and decrease the overall deer population to levels that the land can better support. Due to unprecedented amounts of criticism from hunters and legislators, the Wisconsin DNR was forced to suspend their program in 2009. Although hunters insist that the deer population is too low, available data implies that the deer population is still well over the desired population goals. Maps created using GIS and numerous regression tests were used to quantify the effects that the Earn-a-Buck program has had on the Wisconsin landscape during the course of its existence. Over 75% of the deer management units in Wisconsin are still over the set population goal and the statewide post-hunt population has not been at or below goal since 1992. The total deer harvest has decreased by 47% from the year 2000 and it has helped lead to a decrease in the number of deer-related car accidents and injuries. The total number of deer-related accidents decreased by 20.2% since 2000 and the number of injuries resulting from this type of accident decreased by 41.2%. Although the total deer harvest has decreased, the prevalence of Lyme and Chronic Wasting disease has increased during this time frame. Some of this phenomenon could still be attributed to fact that some deer densities are still well over the desired goals. Before its suspension, the Earn-a-Buck program had been making significant progress toward lowering the deer population. Retracting the Earn-a-Buck program now could eliminate all of the progress we have made towards reaching the desired population goals and making Wisconsin a safer and more balanced environment. Most wildlife experts in Wisconsin agree that, without continual intervention, Chronic Wasting disease will spread further into state. While hunters may currently be complaining about the low numbers of deer on the landscape, future hunts may be in even greater jeopardy as more and more deer succumb to the disease. The best time to manage the disease is right now, while the numbers are still relatively low and concentrated in one area.
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