Deer Harvest Reporting and Harvest Calculation
The subject of mandatory harvest reporting routinely surfaces in numerous letters and emails to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in letters to the NY Outdoor News, other newspapers and even in a resolution from a county sportsman's federation. These letters often imply that the current harvest reporting system is voluntary. In fact, game harvest reporting in New York is mandatory, and State regulations are very specific that a hunter who has taken a deer, bear, or turkey must report the harvest within 7 days of taking the animal. Though this article focuses on the importance of reporting a deer harvest, accurate estimation of bear and turkey harvests also relies on hunter reports.
Some people have suggested that we should change our system to require reports from all hunters, successful or not, and that non-reporters should be denied a license the next year. These ideas and others have been discussed within DEC in the past, however all harvest reporting scenarios have both positive and negative aspects. Across the nation, a variety of methods are used to estimate annual deer harvests including use of mandatory check stations and deer check at meat lockers, mail questionnaires, report cards, telephone surveys, and telephone and internet reporting. No one method is perfect, and all state agencies must deal with incomplete reporting.
Ultimately, the adage, "if it's not broken, don't fix it," comes into play. Suggestions to change DEC's harvest reporting system, while well intentioned, typically stem from a misunderstanding of how the system works and a belief that our current system is not sufficient for accurate harvest estimates or proper deer management. This simply is not the case.
Our system for calculating deer harvests was audited by a private group of professional statisticians in 1990 and was found to be very solid and produce highly reliable harvest estimates. In 2006, approximately 45% of successful deer hunters in New York reported their harvest. While the reporting rate is lower than we would prefer, the combination of harvest reports and more than 15,000 deer checked by DEC staff in the field, yielded a 2006 harvest estimate that was statistically accurate to within ±1.9%. Ten years ago, when reporting rates averaged 60-65%, harvest estimates were accurate to within 1-2%. Our accuracy has not changed, because the methodology and statistics involved are sound.
That said, we would still like to see reporting rates climb. In 2002, when we dropped the paper based reporting system and initiated the automated licensing system (DECALS), our deer harvest reporting rates dropped from 60% to 46%. That first year was a real trial and error year with glitches in the system that dropped calls and turned a lot of hunters away. Since then, we have made significant improvements, and the telephone reporting process today is much smoother. We expect to soon begin using voice recognition software on the telephone reporting system and also to begin accepting harvest reports via the internet. We hope that these improvements will continue to make harvest reporting easier for hunters. Harvest reporting is essential for proper deer management, and when hunters report their harvest, they perform a crucial step in the management process. Hunters are the sole source of two critical pieces of harvest information - when and where deer are taken. These data are used, together with reporting rates, to estimate the number of deer harvested in each town, county, and Wildlife Management Unit throughout the State. Biological information that is essential for management, such as sex, age, and antler data, is generated through the thousands of deer examined by DEC staff each fall.
The process of moving from harvest reports to harvest estimates is fundamentally quite simple. At its essence, harvest calculation involves the number of deer reported, the number of deer checked by DEC staff, and the number of deer that were both reported and checked. With these numbers we can determine a reporting rate and then calculate the number of deer actually harvested.
Our concern with current reporting rates is not the resulting quality of our harvest estimates. Rather, we are concerned that low reporting rates may reflect a declining awareness among hunters about the important role they have in the game management process. Hunters in New York and across the nation face a growing battle to preserve the heritage and traditions they enjoy. Demonstrating to the general public that the hunting community takes seriously their role as cooperators in the game management process is an important element in maintaining their credibility and preserving their hunting traditions. Participation through game harvest reporting is integral in this process.