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By ASHLEY THORNTON
People came from as far as Inglis and Gainesville to attend a public meeting about deer management held at the Tommy Usher Center April 1.
Many said they came to find out about the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s plans and express their feelings based on what they learned at the meeting.
FWC is exploring the possibility of implementing new deer management regulations. A large part of this process has involved seeking local input and forming Technical Assistance Groups (TAGs) made up of members of the public. These groups will look collectively at the data, made up of comments given by the public, gathered from a series of meetings to take place throughout the state and accordingly develop goals and objectives for deer management.
There’s “nothing proposed … we’re here to ask what meeting attendees would like to see us do for deer management in the next five years … no change is an option,” Deer Management Program Coordinator Cory Morea said.
Morea gave a slideshow presentation on deer management in Florida, explaining that it is unique because Florida has more subspecies of deer than any other state. Population growth is much slower, so people have to be more careful with their antlerless population, he said, discussing the possibility of going to a Deer Management Unit (DMU) model for deer in the state.
“Seasons start and end differently based on zones,” he said. “One size does not fit all.”
Morea also said the FWC is hearing a lot of good things and people are happy to be heard. Attendees echoed this sentiment saying they appreciated the opportunity to provide their input on a subject, as one man said, he is passionate about.
While no change is an option, changes are already being proposed in zone D, which makes up the panhandle, that went through the public input process last year. The tri-county area falls into zone C for which the summary report by the Technical Assistance Group is due in July. In August 2014, rule proposals will be developed if deemed warranted. Any suggested changes will then be presented for public comment, modified if necessary and be presented at commission meetings in November 2014 and February 2015. Any changes to take place will not go into affect for this coming season, but for the 2015-2016 season.
Zones have been divided by landmarks such as major roads or waterways, “features you can see on the ground,” as Morea put it and also based on environmental factors that affect deer populations in each region.
Attendees of the FWC’s public meeting in Chiefland expressed concerns over the possibility of new regulations and some had suggestions of their own to offer.
“We need to leave everything just like it is, we spend the money on this and it’s our sport, just leave it like it is,” Sunny Arnold said during the public speaking portion of the meeting. He, like many others, also said something needs to be done about coyotes and poachers in the area.
Predator control was a common theme among those who got up to express their opinions with some suggesting that FWC resources be spent in this avenue rather than on establishing new regulations for deer hunting.
“If they don’t do something about the coyotes and dogs running, this is a waste of time,” said Cross City resident Bobby Pinner, who also said there are more coyotes in the woods than ever before and that mama deer can’t out run them for hours and then go back and feed their little ones.
Eight total meetings will be held for zones B and C that make up north and central Florida, the first of which was in Chiefland. The next meeting to be held near the Tri-County Area will be in Lake City on Monday, April 21, at 6:30 p.m. The meetings are being coordinated by Normandeau Associates of Gainesville, environmental consultants whose goal is to coordinate and facilitate the public input process. One of their representatives, Christine Denny, gave a slideshow presentation on the findings of a survey conducted in 2012 with 4,800 people throughout zones A-D, including hunters, farmers and residents, completing surveys. Some of the results showed that most hunters were satisfied with deer management, but there were mixed opinions regarding bag limits.
In a later email, Morea said it was too early to say what attendees prefer, but that several meeting participants in Chiefland submitted applications to be on the TAG. FWC is excited to see such interest in the project, he said.
According to Morea, in five years, the FWC plans to host this process again to determine how people liked the previous five years and what they would like to see in the following five years.
Further information regarding available webinars, an online survey and Technical Assistance Group applications can be found at www.myfmc.com/deer/dmu.