When the New York State Conservation Council (NYSCC) Big Game Committee met last week at Pine Bush Discovery Center in Guilderland, New York (near Albany), the guest list was filled with many time-honored members of the New York State big game hunting community, including New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Director of Fish and Wildlife, Ms. Patricia Riexinger. Riexinger has provided leadership over the years and with her presence, the added asset of management authority and capacity to discuss in detail, a decades-long issue among the hunting fraternity: the issue of yearling buck management.
According to Western New York representative and big game committee co-chairman, Rich Davenport, “The first half of the meeting served to review the Structured Decision Making (SDM) study which was conducted to determine what issues/ initiatives to undertake when there is an absence of biological need to implement any regulatory action.”
Davenport added, “Specific to the issue of “Yearling Buck Protection” (YBP), commonly known as Mandatory Antler Restrictions (MAR) on buck harvest, no biological or ecological need exists; the study determined that the issue of YBP/ MAR is purely a “social” or “political” issue within the ranks of the hunting community.”
Approximately 7,000 surveys were sent out across NYS and roughly 40 percent of recipients responded. This survey was not a vote, but rather, was collecting various ideas and detailing the complexity of hunter attitudes to provide a better picture of trade-offs and desires across a wide area of interests. Davenport says, “The interests were “bucketed” in several zones termed “buck management zones” that were created for continuity in regional positions by hunters in these areas. The zones were defined to include the following areas: 1. West Adirondacks, 2. Eastern Adirondacks, 3. Long Island, 4. Southeast (Catskills), 5. Mohawk Valley, 6. Lake Plains, 7. Southern Tier.”
The NYSDEC team concluded, “After all returned information was studied, six different alternatives were in play, as follows: 1. Mandatory antler restriction (MAR) throughout all areas, all seasons, excepting youth hunters; 2. Partial MAR through early archery seasons extending through first week of regular season; 3. One Buck per Hunter; 4. Shorten Hunting Seasons by one week in southern zone, two weeks in northern zone; 5. Promote voluntary restraint on buck harvest; 6. No changes.
Davenport explains, “The weighting of information for modeling was to develop a resilient model and final weighting was concluded as follows: 1. Hunter Desire/ Satisfaction – 75 percent; 2. Population estimating and management – 15 percent; 3. Costs of implementation (all costs, not just money) – 10 percent. After all information was gathered, each option was put through the model for “scoring”, with the highest scoring options resulting in future decisions to make.”
Results showed that across all seven buck management zones, the top decision to make concerning buck management was no change. A surprise. Second choice in all but the southeast region was to promote voluntary restraint.
The knowledgeable Davenport adds, “Discussions on the decisions, which actually surprised the DEC, as they believed coming into this exercise that regulatory opportunity would reveal itself, centered on effectiveness of voluntary restraint. Trends currently in New York concerning yearling buck percent of antlered harvest shows a significant downward trend over the past decade, indicating that voluntary restraint is already being embraced by hunters, and although it is expected that the percent of yearling buck harvest will plateau, no program gets yearling buck protection perfect. This is true with MAR or not, and QDMA’s position remains, that any restrictions set forth on buck harvest would be removed once harvest make up is achieved. The NYSDEC results of the SDM are consistent with the decision making of the NYSCC positions on the issue.
Director Riexinger went on record to state, “This issue is now behind the Department, and will not be brought up again for at least 5 years.” So MAR is dead for now across all of NYS, though existing wildlife management units that already have MAR in NYS will remain unchanged (Southeast).
Davenport concluded, “The good news is that now, other issues and concerns that have suffered on account of continuous MAR decision-making and argument, such as addressing urban deer management issues and many other challenges, should now receive proper attention.”
We live, we grow, we learn.