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Citizen Task Forces on Deer

The Task Force Process

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has used Citizen Task Forces (CTFs) to assist in making deer management decisions in New York State since 1990. The use of Task Forces has been part of a major effort to involve New Yorkers in the process of determining appropriate deer population sizes.

During the task force process, citizens representing the full range of interests concerned with deer population size in an individual Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) were brought together for a series of meetings. DEC staff, in consultation with an impartial task force facilitator, identified the various stakeholders (interests) in deer management in a given WMU. Farmers, hunters, foresters, conservationists, motorists, landowners, small businesses, etc. were all considered as potentially distinct stakeholder groups. The final selection of the individuals who were asked to serve on the task force was made by the facilitator. DEC deer biologists served only as technical advisors to the task force, and their primary role was as a subject-matter expert.

At the first of usually two meetings, a DEC deer biologist provided background information on deer biology and management history in the WMU. Each task force member was asked to contact as many people as practical from their stakeholder group in order that they might gain an accurate perspective on their group's opinion of the deer population within the WMU. At the second meeting a few weeks later, each task force member was asked to share their interest group's perspective, and members were encouraged to freely discuss the costs and benefits of various deer population levels. Ultimately, the task force strived to reach agreement and arrive at a consensus recommendation for a deer population level best suited for their particular WMU. This process involved a great deal of discussion, negotiation and compromise on the part of the individual members.

Time for a Change?

The CTF process was groundbreaking in its day and served the DEC well for over two decades, but over time we have identified limitations in its application that we think deserve attention. As a result, we have begun work on a pilot project to update the CTF process in order to address the shortcomings of the old system and take advantage of new information on public participation, new electronic communication methods, and a broader-scale approach.

This pilot project seeks to generate public feedback on deer population change from a broader cross-section of New Yorkers and was launched in the Central Finger Lakes Aggregate, a group of three WMUs (7H, 8J, and 8S) encompassing Seneca County and parts of Ontario, Wayne, Yates, Schuyler, Tompkins, and Cayuga counties.

a map of WMU aggregates

Like the original CTF process, the current pilot project was created in collaboration with the Cornell University Human Dimensions Research Unit and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Unlike the CTF process, however, the new process began with a public survey, Residents' attitudes about deer and deer management in the Central Finger Lakes Management Unit (PDF, 1 MB). The survey was followed by a broad-scale education effort to develop public understanding of the process, share the results of the survey, and convey information to the public regarding deer, deer impacts, and management issues and challenges. The main component of this educational effort was a two-part webinar series that took place in late January, 2016. Recordings of the webinars (link leaves DEC website) are available on Cornell's website.

Following the survey and webinars, additional input was gathered through deliberation from a small group of local citizens convened for the purpose of identifying and prioritizing deer impacts in the Central Finger Lakes Aggregate. More detail on the pilot project is available in the May progress report (PDF, 126 KB). DEC biologists will consider the input and priority deer-related impacts identified by the survey respondents and citizen group and will base final objectives for deer population change on whether the public recommendation is compatible with existing levels of deer impacts on forests.

The pilot process is currently being evaluated by DEC and our Cornell research partners, and we expect a final report on the pilot process and recommendations for refinement later in 2016. If, after refinement, the new process proves workable and valuable, DEC intends to implement it on a routine cycle in each WMU aggregate in the state to respond to changing conditions and attitudes about deer impacts over time.

See a table showing the results of task force efforts to date.

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