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Public Input on Deer Population Size

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for managing New York's wild deer resource for the benefit of all citizens of the state, now and in the future. Understanding how citizens are benefiting from or being harmed by deer and what their values and priorities are with respect to deer management is an important part of fulfilling that responsibility. We are now using a survey-based process to gather the information on citizens' preferences that will help DEC biologists set deer population objectives.

The Survey-based Process

DEC collaborated with the Cornell University Human Dimensions Research Unit (HDRU) to design a survey that will be mailed to homeowners throughout the state in 2018 and 2019. The survey asks respondents questions about:
• their interests and concerns related to deer,
• how they would like to see the deer population in their area change over the next several years, and
• how important deer management issues are to them.

Survey results, in combination with data on deer impacts on forest regeneration, will be used to guide deer population management decisions. Because heavy browsing by deer can have profound and long-lasting negative impacts on forest ecosystems (PDF, 1.9 MB), keeping those impacts at a sustainable level is a top priority for DEC deer managers.

map of New York WMU aggregates
The Aggregates in color will be surveyed first.

The 92 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in New York have been grouped into 23 WMU Aggregates for the purposes of collecting and analyzing data relevant for deer population management. These Aggregates were defined based on similarities in ecological conditions and human and deer population characteristics.

The 7 Aggregates identified on the map will be surveyed in 2018; the rest of the state will be surveyed in 2019. The priorities of Aggregate residents, in combination with local forest conditions, will determine the desired direction of deer population change (up, down, or no change) for the Aggregate for the subsequent five years. Deer Management Permit (DMP) issuance quotas will be set to achieve the desired change.

Aggregates will be re-surveyed periodically and management directions will be adapted as necessary to fit the most recent data.

History of the Public Input Process

For over two decades DEC used Citizen Task Forces (CTFs) to involve state residents in the process of determining appropriate deer population sizes. Each CTF was a small group of citizens chosen to represent a range of interests (farmers, hunters, landowners, motorists, etc.) concerned with deer population size in an individual WMU. CTF members, after discussions with each other and other members of their interest groups, reached an agreement on a recommended population size for their WMU, and subsequent issuance of DMPs by DEC was guided by those recommendations.

The CTF process was groundbreaking when it was adopted in 1990, but over time many shortcomings became apparent. In 2015 DEC began collaborating with HDRU and Cornell Cooperative Extension to design an improved method for gathering public input. We started by conducting a pilot project to test a process that combined:
• a mail survey of the public,
• a webinar series to provide more information on deer to anyone interested, and
• a small group of citizens similar to a CTF.

The final report from Cornell, Evaluation of a Pilot Program to Improve Public Input About Deer and Deer Impacts (PDF, 880 KB), highlights several problems, including inadequate representation of multiple perspectives on deer in the small group and the failure of the group to take the survey results into account in making their recommendation. Lyme disease was identified as the top management priority by the surveyed public, but was identified by the small group as least important for DEC to address, along with deer-vehicle collisions. The small group identified deer hunting opportunity as the top management priority, whereas that was viewed as least important by the surveyed public. Due to the outcome of this pilot project, the decision was made to adopt a survey-based process.


Residents' attitudes about deer and deer management in the Central Finger Lakes Management Unit. 2015. (PDF, 862 KB)
Overview of Pilot CTF Revision Process. 2016. (PDF, 1 MB)
Participant Evaluation of Webinar Series to Support Deer Management in the Central Finger Lakes WMU Aggregate. 2017. (PDF, 315 KB)
Evaluation of a Pilot Program to Improve Public Input About Deer and Deer Impacts. 2017. (PDF, 880 KB)

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