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.