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.