Figuring out Whitetail Deer Management in New York

Karen Cinelli of Newfane with her biggest Niagara County buck to date. Would you pass on this deer during an antlerless-only season?

To the dismay of many deer hunters in Western New York, the state announced last fall that they would be going through with their plan to adopt new regulations in 12 Wildlife Management Units around the state where deer populations have gotten out of control.  This includes WMUs 9A and 9F which encompass all of Niagara County and all or portions of Erie, Genesee and Orleans counties, among others.

“Responsible management requires periodic adjustment of hunting rules to ensure that deer populations are compatible with local socio-economic interests as well as maintaining a balanced ecosystem,” said NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner, Marc Gerstman, when the rules were announced.  Public input was weighed along with the negative impacts associated with problems like tick-borne diseases, increased deer-car collisions, effects on forest habitat regeneration and general deer overpopulation.

The new regulation called for the first 15 days of the early archery season and all of the late bow and muzzleloader seasons to be antlerless only in the following units around the state: 1C, 3M, 3S, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A and 9F.  Because management objectives were not being met in these units, the state felt it was prudent to enact these regulations as soon as possible.

On the cover, it seems like a wise decision.  However, numerous hunters were upset over the fact that DEC originally said that the agency would not enact any new deer hunting regulations until 2016 after public hearings were held. It certainly put people like Dale Dunkelberger of Lockport in a tough place. Dunkelberger, who serves as the Region 9 representative to the Conservation Fund Advisory Board and a person “in the know” when it comes to Albany issues as it relates to the DEC, had been fielding negative comments ever since the new regulations were proposed earlier in June of 2015.  He assured people that nothing would take place until 2016.  Bam!  The hammer dropped and Dunkelberger took more heat for it even though he was not directly involved in the decision or the process.  He was only the messanger and he was shot for it.  Well, not really shot, but you know what I mean.

“Many people called me to oppose the changes, but it was difficult to explain to them that I was only one voice, no matter how many calls I received.  Changes normally won’t take place until there’s a review by the Deer Management Task Force for an area, which takes place every five years.  Every call I received was negative.”  Therein lies a lesson to be learned: Let your voices be heard!!

The sporting community carries some massive power when it comes to issues and concerns that affect our outdoor pastimes, be it our Second Amendment rights or the regulations that oversee our natural resources.  Public input is important and DEC failed to perform the basic community outreach as far as this most recent regulation was concerned.  I must stress “adequate” public outreach.  They did have a comment period for the regulation, but after being assured nothing would happen in 2015, most sat back and did nothing.  There was very poor communication with the hunting community.  In the end, there were less than 200 comments according to DEC.  DEC took it as it didn’t matter to deer hunters.  They are now considering rescinding this particular regulation and holding off until 2017 before any more deer management decisions will be made.

On the flip side, how much of a problem was there in places like Niagara County (where I live) and are there only certain areas posing a threat to agricultural lands, gardens or shrubs?  Many hunters we spoke with didn’t see an overabundance of antlerless deer around and they wondered where was this directive was coming from?

To add to the confusion, the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) enables wildlife biologists to assist landowners and resource managers to develop property-specific deer management plans on their property.  Some modifications are being made to make things easier.  Permit durations will be extended from one to three years in length. With Niagara County being primarily private land, shouldn’t this be the way to manage the problem areas?

After it was all said and done, the new regulation kept many serious hunters out of the woods the first 15 days of the archery season.  Niagara Falls taxidermist Tim Young of Niagara Falls (Trophy Room Taxidermy) made the best point when he commented: “When the state changed the archery season and went with an Oct. 1 opener, serious bow hunters found that they could pattern a big buck during that early season before there was any pressure. You might get one good shot at that trophy.  Why would an archery hunter head to an area with a big buck knowing that they wouldn’t be able to shoot it?  They wouldn’t.  Ditto for the late season muzzleloader hunters in the Southern Zone.  It forced them to hunt other areas, and the real reason for the regulations change – reduce the numbers of antlerless deer – just didn’t happen here in Niagara County.  It just made hunters angry.”