Gov. Scott Walker on Friday rejected state wildlife officials' request to run a four-day October antlerless deer hunt in the chronic wasting disease zone, saying he wants to streamline Wisconsin's hunting season structure.
Walker said he's abiding by a report Texas deer researcher James Kroll gave to the Department of Natural Resources in June. The governor hired Kroll to review the DNR's deer hunting regulations and strategies. Kroll noted hunters are unhappy with what they see as a complex web of multiple hunting seasons and questioned whether the October hunt generated enough kills in the CWD zone to continue.
The move also signals Walker is pulling the DNR back from its CWD-control strategy, which calls for killing as many deer in the zone as possible to keep the disease from spreading. Hunters and landowners in the zone have complained the plan is hopeless and overzealous.
Kroll recommended the state adopt a more passive approach to handling the disease.
"Eliminating the 4-day October hunt in the CWD zone is one of the most simple and most effective ways we can show hunters that we are listening," Walker said in a statement.
The DNR over the years established an array of deer seasons statewide, including an archery season, a youth deer hunt, a muzzleloader season, a four-day October antlerless hunt and the traditional nine-day November gun hunt. The agency also set up a December hunt in the CWD zone.
Hunters complained the multiple seasons are confusing and drained the fun out of the November gun hunt. Walker promised to reform deer hunting when he ran for governor in 2010.
He hired Kroll in the fall to evaluate the DNR's deer hunting regulations. A few weeks later, he signed a Republican bill that outlawed the DNR's contentious Earn-A-Buck herd control program, which required hunters in areas with an overabundance of deer to kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck.
Hunters generally despised the requirement because it forced them to pass up trophy bucks.
The bill also eliminated the four-day October hunt everywhere in the state except in the CWD zone. The measure granted the governor the power to approve or nix such a season in the zone. The DNR's board made the request for a season in April, but the governor shot it down.
Rob Bohmann, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, praised the governor's decision. He said most hunters used the October antlerless season as an opportunity to kill an antlerless deer and qualify for a buck under Earn-A-Buck. Now that Earn-A-Buck has been eliminated, there's little need for the October season, he said. According to Kroll's report, hunters killed about 2,000 antlerless deer in the CWD zone during the 2011 October hunt. The report questioned whether such a limited harvest is worth stirring up hunters' ire over diluting the traditional November hunt.
"It's a good move," Bohmann said. "It's basically been a non-effective event. Those deer will still be there in gun season as they were in October."
DNR spokesman Bill Cosh issued a statement saying the agency understands the governor wants to be responsive to hunters. He declined further comment.
CWD eats away at a deer's brain, causing it to act strangely and die. The disease was discovered in Wisconsin near Mount Horeb in 2002. The CWD zone grew over the past decade to include most of south-central Wisconsin.