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KC's Corner

Time running out for deer changes.

Sun, August 14, 2016

The clock is ticking.

As the days inevitably get shorter and the evening locusts tell us that fall is just around the corner, I start getting that itch.  Time is running short.  I still have several hundred arrows to release at a foam target that’s still sitting in my garage.  Stands need prepared.  Cameras need checked.  Equipment needs gathered (and possibly found).  Seems like opening day always slips up on me.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that IDNR deer managers in IL ever feel that same sense of urgency.

Nearly a decade ago, IDNR biologists convinced us (well, some of us) that deer vehicle accident (DVA) rates were a good method to measure deer population size in a county.  I’ve written quite a bit on this subject, but DVA’s have been a good indicator of the decline of the IL deer herd that we’ve seen over the last several years.

It sounded like a good plan.  But continued delays in getting DVA data from IDOT has made managing deer on DVA rates challenging.  Recently, I was told by an IDOT employee that it would be “sometime in November” before 2015 accident data would be finalized.  November?!?

We started out with DVA’s being ready sometime in June.  Even that wasn’t ideal, since the early firearm lottery would have taken place by the time this data comes out.  Every year the data has gotten later.  But November?

Consider this math.  Let’s assume we had another serious EHD outbreak in 2014.  Just like we saw a couple of years ago… when EHD hits later in the year, the true impact usually doesn’t show itself in the DVA rate until the following year (in this case, 2015).

But by the time we see that data, the 2016 season will be in full swing… no time for changes.  The first chance to make any management adjustments would come in the 2017 season.  But wait… IDNR has told us that one year of low DVA data isn’t enough to make changes, even if they know an outside influence (like EHD) proves it’s not just a “data blip.”

That “rule” would delay any changes another year, pushing any POSSIBLE change off until the 2018 season… 4 years after an “event” that caused the issue in the first place!  Every other state in the Midwest published IMMEDIATE permit/harvest reductions following their EHD outbreaks in 2012.

Regardless of how the data comes out for 2015, significant changes could have been made already.  Not necessarily changes in specific counties, but with how the data is analyzed and used.  Illinois Whitetail Alliance has been asking for these changes since 2014.

First off the DVA rate, like any “target statistical rate, should be set as a range… not a single data point.  While the DVA rate is a good indicator of population, the margin of error in the data (like exactly how many miles are driven in a given county) simply doesn’t allow that level of accuracy to hit a single rate.  IWA’s suggestion was to have a +/-10% margin above or below the target.  If a county is within that range, then the population would be considered “at target” and no changes would be needed.

The second suggestion was to implement some herd growth strategies for counties “significantly” below goal (more than 10% below the target range).  This would go above and beyond simply removing the county from the late-winter antlerless season (LWS).  This would require some meaningful harvest limits in order to grow the herd back to target levels.  This is THE biggest challenge… in getting IDNR to commit to growing the herd in some areas.

As of 2014 DVA data, 38 of the 85 counties being managed on DVA rates were more than 10% below their DVA goal.

But all of these plans fly out the window if biologists don’t have access to TIMELY DVA data.  Working from 2-3-4 year old data, and ignoring outside factors like disease, can’t continue.  Hunters are still waiting for meaningful changes after the state’s biggest EHD event in 2012 and 2013.

Again, the clock is ticking… and not just for hunters.


2016 Deer Season Changes?

Sun, July 17, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve written on HO about deer issues.  The legislative session was pretty quiet for a change.  And honestly… I think a lot of people are simply tired of hearing about the same deer management issues over and over.

As the 2016 season gets closer, we still don’t have the deer-vehicle accident (DVA) statistics from last year.  Last I heard from IDOT, it would be sometime in August before that data is finalized. This is the main source of data used to estimate deer densities at the county level, and determines county management plans.

With that being said… once again, I don’t anticipate any big changes in terms of managing towards these county-specific DVA goals.  Firearm permit quotas have been set, we’ve been through several lotteries, and I’m sure the hunting digest is close to complete.

So far, the only proposed changes to the IL deer program simply allow for expanded seasons and permits.

These changes come via the administrative rule process.  That’s the set of rules that IDNR administration puts in place that further defines some regulations, inside the framework provided by statute.  In other words, it allows IDNR to make changes that don’t require changes to the law.

This year, there are 2 changes being proposed that are of significance for the upcoming season.

The first is a change that would allow archery equipment to be used during the firearm season… on private property.  Lawmakers have tried this numerous times, and the legislation has always failed due to lack of hunter support.  Past IDNR wildlife division employees opposed this change.  Now, Director Rosenthal is making the change via ad rule, which is within the agency’s authority.

This has always been a divisive issue, and I won’t go into the long history here.  I simply wonder how this issue rose so high on the priority list.  Is this the right time to expand seasons?  With so many biological questions unanswered (or unaddressed), is does it make sense to do this now?  We can’t help counties below their population goal 4 years after EHD, yet we can implement this quickly?

The way the proposed rule is worded, bowhunters would have to purchase a firearm permit to do this.  Normal archery permits are only valid during the archery season, and that season would still be “closed” during the open (firearm) season.

I communicated with a hunter from Moultrie County last year.  IDNR cut their firearm AO permits to zero last year, leaving most gun hunters with a single either-sex permit… if they draw it in the lottery.  Bowhunters in that county can still shoot two bucks, have access to an unlimited number of AO permits, and can be afield for 100+ days.  Would it be fair to have a bowhunter also take away the only permit a gun hunter could have received?

The last time we saw numbers, there were about 30,000 bowhunters who did not purchase a gun tag in IL.  If all of those hunters now chose to enter the lottery, who are they going to displace?  Recent permit data shows that we sell about 99% of the “available” either-sex firearm season permits statewide… with most counties being at 100%.

My bigger fear is that when gun hunters start losing access to the only season they hunt, IDNR will simply raise the number of available permits to meet demand.

We can debate this issue all day, but that’s not really my intent.  I know other states allow it.  I have friends who have made solid arguments in favor of it.  I’m just not sure where this is coming from now.  This hasn’t been an issue that IDNR has brought up recently in their surveys.  In fact, the last time the issue was brought up in an official INHS survey, only 1/3 of bowhunters supported bowhunting during the firearm season (the question wasn’t asked to the gun hunters they could displace).

With all of the concern from IL deer hunters about how the deer herd is being managed… coupled with the fact that most bowhunters aren’t in favor of hunting during the firearm season… how did this become such a hot topic that it needed to be changed all of a sudden.  And with little communication?

The second proposed change is basically the resurrection of an issue that will certainly be an unpopular one.  Through the ad rule process, IDNR is bringing back the unlimited non-resident (NR) antlerless-only (AO) deer permit.  The permit was abolished last year, although the cutoff didn’t take effect until mid-October.

The main difference now is … the permit will cost $100 instead of $25.  However, the permit will remain $25 for those who buy the more expensive $400+ combo archery permit first.  IDNR did keep the rule in place that disallows a NR from buying a combo permit after September 30th, if the person has already purchased the AO permit.

Law enforcement knows that this permit gets abused.  Other officials know it’s abused.  Outdoor groups and hunters have long called for the permit to be abolished.  Yet here we have it back again.  Why?

Looking at last season’s data on this permit, the number of NR AO permits decreased from 6,544 in 2014 to only 1,684 in 2015 (a 74% decrease).  However, the number of the NR combination archery permits increased from 14,788 to 16,600.  In other words… of the roughly 4900 NR’s who couldn’t get the AO permit, more than 37% of them switched back to the expensive combo permit.

This marked the first increase in NR combo permits since they peaked in 2008.  Altogether, the move generated about $620,000 more in revenues last year for IDNR by getting rid of the cheap AO permit.  That revenue will now be at risk since NR’s will be offered a cheaper alternative than the combo permit again.  If permits go back to the same level as 2014, revenues will drop by more than $130,000.

Those are the only changes that have been proposed via ad rule.  Neither change will help the deer herd in areas that are below their population goal.  Nothing helps areas that remain overpopulated, although not from a lack of trying to sell permits.

I guess there’s still an outside chance that changes could be made yet for this season, but the clock is definitely ticking.


Bobcat Season Under Attack - Again

Fri, March 11, 2016

Illinois’ new bobcat season is still facing possible attacks as we’re just months away from a possible first season in decades.  In the meantime, IDNR staff is still working out how to implement the season that was signed into law last year.

The bobcat season has been worked on for a while.  The Illinois Trappers Association (ITA) has been the driving force behind it for several years.  It came close to passing in 2014 when it passed the IL House by a 91-20 vote… and the IL Senate by a 30-19 vote, only to be vetoed by Governor Pat Quinn.  House Bill 352 passed in 2015 and was signed in to law last July by Governor Rauner.  After nine months of being law, we still have lawmakers trying to dismantle it… and we face a lot of unknowns how IDNR will regulate it.

Senate Bill 2143 was filed by Senator Don Harmon (D) from Oak Park, IL during last year’s session.  The original language was written to prohibit the sale of bobcat pelts in IL.  Instead of the normal route through the Agriculture Committee, like most hunting regulations, this bill was assigned to the Commerce & Economic Development Committee.

One day before this bill was to be heard in committee on March 3rd of this year, it was amended to exclude trapping as a means to take bobcats during the new season.  More backdoor politics by Springfield’s finest, trying to sneak in a last-minute amendment to avoid opposition to their attacks.

Luckily, the bill was not heard in committee on March 3rd, and was due to be called again on March 10th.  Another amendment was filed to clean up language on the trapping exclusion the day before the committee meeting.  By now, ITA had become aware of the amendments and was able to mount opposition to the bill (although the anti-hunters had more support on witness slips).  Senator Harmon held the bill again without calling it for a committee vote, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what will be tried next.

I’m not a trapper, but I support trapping 110%.  ITA has always had a strong presence in IL, and they always have went to bat on issues impacting their pastime.  In addition, they’ve been a strong advocate for hunter rights when deer hunting issues come up in IL.  Excluding trappers from the bobcat season is just plain wrong.  If it weren’t for the work of ITA, there would be no bobcat season in IL.  We all owe them our support on this one.

Which leads me to my next point… how the season and permits will be implemented.

In the proposed administrative rule, nearly 25% of the state will be excluded from the season.  While that may disappoint some, the bobcat population in this area just isn’t there.  Since the permits will be so limited anyway, why would you want to have possibly 25% of the permits given to hunters in areas where there are no bobcats?

Speaking of the permit allocation, the only thing proposed for the sale of permits is that they would be available online at 8:00 am on the first Tuesday in October.  No word if there will be a lottery draw.  I assume from the wording that it will be first come-first served.  Last I heard, only 500 permits would be made available.

What precautions are being taken to prevent anti-hunters from gobbling up available permits?  How are we making sure they get in the hands of hunters/trappers in areas that hold bobcats? Why no allocation by county, like deer permits, to get them to counties that hold the highest populations?  With permits being so limited, what are we doing to make sure everyone has a fair shot at a permit?  Is something in place to keep someone from drawing permits 2 years in a row, while others are left out?

Think about it… if only 500 permits are available statewide every year, your odds of ever getting a permit are slim.  With about 270,000 deer hunters in the woods… if they all applied for a permit, it would take about 540 years to get them all a permit!  Unfortunately, the very people who fought to get this season implemented, the trappers, probably face the worst odds of ever getting a permit.

If you’re lucky enough to draw a permit, hopefully IDNR law enforcement won’t enforce the law that’s currently in effect that makes it illegal to shoot a furbearer with the aid of the “tree-climbing device.”  In the past, treestands were considered tree climbing devices.  Under past IDNR administration, we were forced to change the statute just to get this changed to legally shoot coyotes from a treestand.

I know this is a pipe dream, but why can’t we have a system that puts the permits in areas/counties that need them… keeps them out of the hands of anti-hunters… and provides a method of allocation that makes sure everyone has an equal chance at a true once-in-a-lifetime permit?

Stay tuned for updates on how you can help support the trappers, and make your voice heard on SB 2143.  The next time the bill is scheduled to be heard in committee, you can file a witness slip to voice your opposition.  You can do it online.  It’s quick and easy, and we need to make sure legislators hear us.


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