Citizen Task Forces on Deer
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has used Citizen Task Forces to assist in making deer management decisions in New York State for more than a decade. The use of Task Forces have been part of a major effort to involve New Yorkers in the process of determining appropriate deer population sizes. Citizen Task Forces on deer management have proven to be a very successful application of this concept.
In 1990, (DEC) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) organized citizen task forces in fifteen Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) throughout the state. Since that initial effort, task forces have been convened at least once in almost all WMUs where legal authority for management exists. Most CCE agents have had specialized training as facilitators to help groups reach consensus and as a result have often served as facilitators for the task forces. Typically, task force facilitators have no responsibility for deer management work and serve as a non-biased group leader. The facilitator also guides the meetings to help the group work together to agree on a consensus recommendation for a deer population goal in the unit.
During the task force process, people representing the full range of interests concerned with deer population size in an individual WMU are brought together for a series of meetings. DEC staff, in consultation with the task force facilitator, identify the various stakeholders (interests) in deer management in a given WMU. Stakeholders are people affected by deer who have a particular concern or interest in the overall population of deer in a WMU. Farmers, hunters, foresters, conservationists, motorists, the tourism industry, landowners, small business, etc, are all considered as potentially distinct stakeholder groups. The final selection of the individuals who are asked to serve on the task force is made by the facilitator. Each facilitator is empowered to select individuals to represent each of the stakeholder interests identified for the WMU.
At the initial meeting, a DEC deer biologist provides background information on deer biology and management in the WMU. DEC deer biologists serve only as technical advisors to the task force, and their primary role is as a subject matter expert. They are available to address task force members' questions and concerns about deer biology and management.
At the conclusion of the first meeting, each task force member is asked to contact as many people as practical from their stakeholder group in order that they may gain an accurate perspective of their groups opinion of the deer population within the WMU. A second meeting is usually scheduled about a month later. At the second meeting, each task force member is asked to share their interest's perspective with the rest of the task force. The task force members are encouraged to freely discuss the costs and benefits of various deer population levels. Ultimately, it is hoped that the group will reach agreement and arrive at a consensus recommendation for a deer population level best suited for their particular WMU. This process involves a great deal of discussion, negotiation and compromise on the part of the individual members. Occasionally, a third meeting is necessary before agreement is reached.
To date, almost all of the task forces have agreed on a desirable deer population for their WMU. Results have varied, with some task forces seeking an increase in the deer population, some wanting a decrease, and still others call for maintaining the status quo. Only rarely has a task force been deadlocked, with one or two members unwilling to compromise. In these cases, DEC reviews the inputs of all the task force members and sets a population goal that meets the desires of the majority of the stakeholders.
Task force recommendations are used to guide deer management actions in each WMU. Adult female harvest quotas, for example, are based on the relationship between the actual population trend and the population goal in each WMU. The number of Deer Management Permits (DMPs) available to hunters is, in turn, based on the adult female harvest quota each year.
Follow-up interviews with initial task force members were conducted by the Human Dimensions Resource Unit of Cornell University. Most participants said that they liked the overall task force process and concept. They felt that they were exposed to a great amount of information about deer biology and management and developed an understanding of the interests and concerns of other stakeholders. By having a greater awareness of other stakeholder interests and levels of tolerance for deer populations, they felt that they gained a broader perspective for addressing deer management issues.
The fact that DEC was soliciting and using public input was one of the most valuable aspects of the task force process. Many task force members were equally impressed by deer biologists' ability to gauge and predict the impacts of deer populations. Task force members strongly felt that more publicity about the task force process and increased communication from the DEC about deer management would enhance the value of future efforts.
In most cases, DEC attempts to convene a task force in each WMU about once every five years. As a result of local circumstances, it may be decided to convene a task force in some WMUs on a slightly different schedule. There is a need to represent all of the major interests on any given task force, and the range of interests may vary for each specific WMU. Stakeholders may also change over time, as deer populations fluctuate and public attitudes towards deer change accordingly. Citizens from many different walks of life have a keen interest and legitimate concerns about the state's deer population. A clear benefit of citizen task forces is that they promote dialogue among people with different opinions about deer.
A table showing the results of task force efforts to date is attached.