New York State Whitetail Deer News

Abundant deer populations are present in New York State near metropolitan areas and near farm areas too. Identifying the process to provide public highway safety, successful farming and hunter achievement opportunities is a complex process. Joe Forma Photo
  • Pilot Project Concludes on Public Input for Deer Populations
  • Evaluation and Assessment Continues

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a pilot effort in progress to improve collection of public input about deer impacts and desired deer population levels ( This is a collaborative venture with Cornell University and county-level Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offices that has concluded and is now being evaluated. The effort was intended to revise and modify the former Citizen Task Force process to improve methods for public input on desirable changes in local deer abundance, consistent with DEC’s Deer Management Plan.

The pilot, which took place in a 1,325-square-mile area of central New York (Wildlife Management Units 7H, 8J and 8S), began with a 2015 survey of residents to gather information on the values they attribute to deer and their experiences with and concerns about deer impacts. Out of the 3,000 surveys that were mailed, 1,456 were completed and returned. Following considerable public outreach to advertise the program, two webinars were held in January 2016 to provide information to residents on DEC’s deer management program, the results of the public survey, deer biology, deer impacts on people and the environment, and deer management issues and challenges. Webinar participants were then asked if they would like to volunteer to be part of an input group, and 12 of the 24 volunteers were selected.

A team of NYSDEC Wildlife Biologists conduct deer assessment checks to provide feedback on age, health and density of the NYS Deer Population during each big game firearms season. Forrest Fisher Photo

This group held two meetings in March 2016 to discuss local deer-related impacts and prioritize issues that they felt DEC should address. These meetings were facilitated by Oneida County officials and two DEC wildlife biologists attended to answer questions and offer advice. Although the group members had been selected to maximize the diversity of deer-related interests and perspectives as much as possible given the low number of volunteers, the prioritization of impacts identified by group participants differed markedly from that indicated by the survey of residents. The number one priority for the input group, deer hunting opportunities, was viewed as least important by the surveyed residents; Lyme disease was identified as the number one management priority by the surveyed residents, but was identified by the input group as least important for DEC to address, along with deer-vehicle collisions.

As group participants observed, making decisions about deer and deer management is a complex task involving diverse stakeholder interests and values, which may be conflicting. Designing a process that can address this complexity satisfactorily is difficult. The pilot process is currently being evaluated by DEC and our Cornell research partners, and we expect to generate recommendations for refinement later in 2016. If, after refinement, the new process proves workable and valuable, DEC intends to implement it on a routine cycle in each aggregate of Wildlife Management Units across the state to respond to changing conditions and attitudes about deer impacts over time. DEC deer managers will consider the public’s prioritization of deer impacts and desires for deer population change, in conjunction with data on the ecological impacts of deer, as they make decisions about changes to deer abundance in each area.

Additional details on the pilot effort and its outcomes are available in the progress report, and DEC will provide more information about future developments as the project continues.

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.”