View Full Version : IA: Guest column: Preserve quality of deer herd, hunting experience

Bob S
03-21-2009, 06:09 PM
ARTICLE (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009903210306)

MIKE KALKWARF of Otley is a county conservation park ranger.
Contact: m_kalkwarf@ hotmail.com March 21, 2009

The deer debate has raged for years. Recently, as the Department of Natural Resources faces budget deficits, it has escalated from primarily a management issue to an overwhelmingly financial issue.

I offer my perspective as a conservation professional and a lifelong Iowa resident and outdoorsman: Deer hunting and deer management in Iowa are much more complex issues than most people realize. First, there are two very different types of deer hunting. One is for antlerless deer, primarily hunted for population management and putting venison in the freezer. The other is for antlered deer, the more recreational side, and in Iowa that means trophy bucks. The buck hunting is why hunters from all over the country come here and pay top dollar to hunt, and that's what will be adversely affected by increasing the quota for nonresident tags.

A lot of people point to our neighboring states and say we should make our regulations more like theirs. They forget what separates us. Neighboring states average $240 for a nonresident to hunt deer, while Iowa charges $415. Why such a price difference? There's one reason: Bucks.

Three main things separate Iowa from its neighbors:

- The timing of our firearms seasons. We don't hunt deer during the rut, when the bucks are most vulnerable.

- Our method of take. We don't shoot deer with rifles during the gun seasons or use crossbows during the archery seasons.

- Limits on hunter numbers. We have caps on nonresidents, and we spread out resident hunters among a limited number of season choices.

A change in any one of these policies would drastically alter deer hunting in Iowa. An increase in nonresidents will increase the pressure on bucks - the reason nonresidents come here - not on the deer herd. The more pressure you put on that limited resource, the more its quality will diminish.

Some people talk about all the money more nonresident hunters would bring into the state. Yes, they will bring in money, in the form of land purchases and leasing from big-money landowners and outfitters. The more land they lock up, the more the average Iowa resident and nonresident hunter will be displaced, pushed into Iowa's very small public-hunting lands. This will also create more deer "sanctuaries," complicating population issues.

Illinois is the closest comparison in available deer habitat and regulations. The biggest difference is that Illinois has a high quota of nonresident deer tags. The result: You have to pay to play. The only nonresidents that bother are those that are willing to shell out big bucks to hunt, and the resident hunter has been pushed aside.

What about the other half of the deer debate, the population? We have the proper mechanisms in place to effectively reduce the deer herd. In problem areas, additional doe tags are allocated. For cities and parks, this is for population management zones, and for farmers, it's the depredation program, to prevent crop damage.

Economics 101 tells us the "no-brainer" solution to both the population and budget questions. Depredation tags are already sold at a discounted price, and the price should be reduced accordingly in areas where antlerless tags go unsold. On the other side, about 12,000 nonresidents applied for 6,000 tags. Wouldn't a price increase be in order?

Also, as a resident I would gladly pay extra for my antlered (recreational) hunting tags. But, I will gladly pay only as long as the quality of Iowa's deer herd is maintained.

Major changes to regulations will impact the quality, and then the deer-hunter dollar will fade, just as it did with the pheasant-hunter dollar.

There is also a host of other recreational users: hikers, wildlife watchers, horse riders, geocachers, etc. An increase in fees shouldn't be just for one select group of outdoors users; it should be spread out among all who benefit, which, after all, is the entire state.