DFW weighs expanded antlerless deer permits

MANCHESTER — On Tuesday night representatives for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife met with local game wardens and concerned citizens regarding their proposal for antlerless deer hunting in 2017.

The proposal follows two mild winters, which experts predict will result in an approximate 7 percent increase in Vermont's deer population.

"We are recommending an increase in muzzleloader season antlerless deer permits this year to account for the increase in the deer population following another mild winter in 2017," said Nick Fortin, deer project leader for the Fish & Wildlife Department. "Much of Vermont has experienced two consecutive very mild winters. As a result, the recommendation is intended to stabilize or reduce deer densities in some parts of the state while allowing for moderate population growth in other areas."

The recommendation to increase antlerless deer permits is not unusual says Fortin, as every year the department adjusts the amount of permits issued in response to deer population growth or decline. The annual recommendation is based on population estimates biological data, winter severity data, and deer sighting rates reported by hunters, as well as input from game wardens, foresters and the public.

The two hearings, one at Randolph Union High School on Thursday, May 11 and this week's hearing at Burr and Burton, are intended to gather feedback from the individuals who are most impacted by these regulations — hunters themselves.

"We're the buffer between the science and the public will," said Theresa Elmer, a board member for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We want to hear what you think."

The proposal allows for antlerless deer hunting for the entirety of the archery season, taking place from October 7 to November 3 and December 2-10 in 2017. Last year, hunters took 2,595 antlerless deer during the archery season.

Regulations are more stringent for the muzzleloader season, due in part to the higher success rate compared to archery. The December muzzleloader season would allow 24,500 antlerless permits to be distributed in 18 of Vermont's 21 Wildlife management Units (WMU), which is estimated to result in 3,608 antlerless deer being taken. The Department hopes that this more targeted approach will result in a more even distribution of deer across the state despite growing populations.

"We expect the statewide deer population to be about 157,000 prior to the start of the 2017 deer seasons," said Fortin.

The experts at the department are confident in their estimates, citing their success in estimating the deer population accurately over the past decade.

"Most states can't even come close to this kind of accuracy," said Fortin. "We have some of the best data in the country."

Though the increase in permits may seem disproportionate to the increase in the deer population, Fortin notes that the success rate for these permits stands at 15 percent — requiring an excess of permits to be issued to harvest the desired amount of deer.

Following the department's presentation of data, attendees split into two groups to provide feedback before returning to open discussion. According to Fortin, the feedback on this year's proposal has been largely positive.

This was the case in Manchester on Tuesday as well, with general support for the proposition among attendees. Other issues proved less agreeable, with substantial discussion of the increasing bear population and the resulting impact on fawn populations, a call for increased moose permits, and criticism of youth hunting regulations as too liberal.

This feedback precedes the Department's ten year big-game management plan, which is currently being negotiated internally and will be made public this year. The current big-game management plan will remain effective until 2020.

The antlerless deer hunting proposal was voted on by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board at its meeting on April 26 in Montpelier, and will be voted on again in light of public feedback on May 24. The proposal can be found in its entirety at www.vtfishandwildlife.com, and public comments can be submitted to the Department via e-mail at ANR.FWPublicComment@Vermont.Gov until May 23.

Muzzleloader season antlerless permit applications will be available through the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife in early June.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.


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