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DEC launches pilot project to improve collection of public input about deer populations

by jmaloni

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Mon, Aug 24th 2015 12:45 pm

New process allows for increased public input

There will be an increased opportunity for public input in deer management decision-making under a pilot project launched by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. This new project will incorporate modern technology and gather input directly from a broader cross-section of New Yorkers.

"The old method of collecting public input on desired deer population levels was groundbreaking at the time and has served DEC well for a quarter century," Acting Commissioner Marc Gerstman said. "However, we know we can make the program better by obtaining input from a broader range of citizens, by taking better advantage of current electronic communication methods and by making the process easier for those participating."

DEC is initiating this pilot effort in Central New York and has selected a 1,325-square-mile group of three WMUs (7H, 8J and 8S), which encompass Seneca County and portions of Ontario, Wayne, Yates, Schuyler, Tompkins and Cayuga counties.

The human dimensions research unit and the cooperative extension in the department of natural resources at Cornell University are assisting DEC with the research and educational outreach aspects of the pilot. In addition, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca, Cayuga, and Tompkins counties will play a central role in implementation of the pilot process.

The new process is intended to replace the existing citizen task force model for seeking public recommendations on desired deer population levels within individual wildlife management units, in place since 1990.

In keeping with DEC's management plan for white-tailed deer in New York (2012-16), DEC began grouping the existing 92 WMUs into fewer, larger WMU aggregates that will allow for better use of existing and new data and improved deer population monitoring. Public recommendations for deer population change will also be identified for WMU aggregates rather than individual WMUs. DEC is evaluating the best approach to engage the public at this larger scale.

Planning for the revised public input process started in 2013. Activities included interviews with DEC and cooperative extension staff, as well as citizens who were involved in the original CTFs to identify the strengths and shortcomings of the old method. In addition, last spring, DEC and HDRU conducted a broad-based survey of residents in the Central New York pilot WMU aggregate to collect information on public values for deer and their experiences and concerns with deer impacts (e.g., deer-vehicle collisions, landscape damage, agricultural damage) in that area.

The pilot project will include:

•Embarking on a broad-scale education effort this fall to develop public understanding of the process, share results of the survey and convey information to the public regarding deer impacts, management issues and challenges in general;

•Using the information gained through the broad-scale education effort, combined with the public survey results, a small group of citizens will convene for the purpose of identifying and prioritizing deer impacts in the pilot WMU aggregate; and

•Using the recommendations of the citizen group, together with the results of the public survey, to define the public recommendation for deer population change in the pilot WMU aggregate.

Citizens participating in the process will no longer be asked to gather input themselves from other stakeholders, which was one of the limitations under the previous CTF approach. Solicitation of input, now via broad public survey, will be more far-reaching and representative than collecting opinions on a limited one-on-one basis.

The public recommendation for deer population change will be considered for data describing the ecological impacts of deer within the WMU aggregate. DEC biologists will base final objectives for deer population change on whether the public recommendation is compatible with existing levels of deer impacts on forests.

Results of the process, as well as the decisions pursuant to it, will be shared with the public broadly, serving as an audit on the pilot system, and providing feedback for improving the process before expanding it to other WMU aggregates in the future. Once refined, DEC intends to implement the new process on a routine cycle in each aggregate in the state to respond to changing conditions and attitudes about deer impacts over time.

The original CTF process involved the selection of a relatively small group of citizens, usually eight to 12 individuals, each representing a particular stake in the deer population level in a WMU. Members included farmers, hunters, motorists, foresters, landowners and others having an interest in the size of a unit's deer herd. Task force members were asked to seek opinions about desired deer numbers from other citizens in their stakeholder group, form a collective stakeholder position and then report that position back to the CTF. The group, as a whole then debated the merits of the various positions and settled on one collective recommendation to the DEC on which direction the local deer population should go and by how much. The recommendation was expressed as percent change desired in the deer population, including no change. DEC then used the CTF recommendation to guide deer management actions in that particular WMU.

For information regarding other DEC deer programs, visit the department's deer management Web page at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7211.html.

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