MOUNT HOREB — James Kroll, the Texas deer expert hired by Gov. Scott Walker to evaluate deer management in Wisconsin, didn’t waste any time Friday getting to the upshot of his statewide study, which started in October.
“There’s a need for a new model of deer management,” Kroll immediately told a crowd of more than 200, mostly hunters.
The Mount Horeb meeting was the fifth of six gatherings Kroll is hosting around the state this week to share his preliminary report and to take comments from the public.
Kroll and two people he hired to help him are being paid a total of $125,000. He was hired to fulfill a campaign promise by Walker to address hunters’ complaints that the state Department of Natural Resources was mismanaging the deer herd.
In his initial report, Kroll blasted the DNR for not listening to hunters, using bad science to estimate deer populations, and failing in its efforts to control chronic wasting disease, a fatal deer illness.
The CWD problem resonated with Friday night’s crowd, gathered in a high school auditorium in the heart of the region hardest hit by CWD.
Kroll said he was aware his report was harsh.
“We hurt some people’s feelings,” he said. “But I care about the deer. I care about you. So I’m going to hurt some feelings.”
Kroll said he predicted 10 years ago that Wisconsin’s approach to fighting CWD by dramatically reducing deer densities would not work. He said he predicted failure because the state did not try to determine the extent of the disease before putting its plan in place.
But he said the state has learned. Kroll praised, for example, the agency’s response to the recent discovery of the first deer in northern Wisconsin with the disease. He said the DNR has established a two-mile zone around the northwestern disease location and is collecting data in that area to determine whether the disease has spread.
Even so, Kroll said, the state needs to come up with a new plan for controlling CWD. More data are essential, he added, saying there are no reliable numbers, for instance, on how many deer have died from CWD in the most heavily affected zones in south central Wisconsin.
Also, Kroll said, the DNR needs to do a better job of assuring residents and hunters that there is no human health threat from the deer disease.
“We haven’t done a good job of convincing folks that they’re not going to die,” Kroll said. “And we lost hunters we’re not going to get back.”
Kroll said other corrections he will recommend include involving private landowners in management, de-emphasizing management based on deer population numbers, and simplifying regulations.