MADISON — A controversial evaluation of Wisconsin’s deer management efforts will be released with little fanfare Tuesday, posted on the state Department of Administration website, according to state officials.
The low-key rollout of the report stands in contrast to the clamor that has been raised by the work of the Texas deer expert who was hired for $125,000 by Gov. Scott Walker to address the concerns of deer hunters who charge that the state Department of Natural Resources is mismanaging the state’s white tail deer population.
James Kroll, a deer specialist from Stephen F. Austin University in Texas, drew fire from critics in recent months for comments he made years ago in a magazine article, extolling hunting on private ranches such as those in Texas as opposed to hunting on public lands, an important part of Wisconsin’s hunting legacy.
Kroll said the comments were taken out of context and denied that he holds any bias toward private hunting preserves. Even so, he was sharply critical of the DNR in a preliminary report issued earlier in the spring. He called into question the accuracy of the formula the agency’s wildlife biologists use to set population numbers and hunting goals. He said the DNR has poorly handled the management of the fatal deer illness known as chronic wasting disease. And he accused the agency of being out of touch with and not communicating well with deer hunters.
Whether that harsh tone will continue with the final report remains to be seen. Ed Eberle, who heads the DOA’s Department of Intergovernmental Relations, said the details of the report are being withheld until its release Tuesday on the agency’s website. He said Walker has been reviewing the report, which is 136 pages long with a seven-page executive summary, since June 27 when Kroll submitted a final draft.
What happens after the report’s release Tuesday is somewhat up in the air. It is unclear who will be deciding which of Kroll’s recommendations will be put in place or whether any changes will require legislative action. Kroll and others have indicated the process will involve the public, including public hearings on proposed changes to deer management.
“I believe we will see more public input,” said Robert Bohman, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a statewide group that advises the DNR on outdoor sport issues. “I think we will see some changes in the state. I think there are a number of hunters who are anxious to see changes.”
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said more details about how Kroll’s recommendations are to be handled will be released along with the report Tuesday.
Kroll wrote the report in Texas and did not return calls late last week for comment on the final draft. Eberle said Kroll will be in the state for the report’s release. Even though Kroll submitted his report June 27, three days earlier than it was due, Eberle said its release to the public was delayed to give Walker time to read the report and also to avoid any conflict with the July 4 holiday.
Conspicuously absent from involvement in the report’s release is the DNR, the very agency that will be most affected by any recommendations from Kroll and his team. Tom Hauge, who heads the agency’s wildlife management programs, said Friday he does not know of anyone in the department who has seen the report.
“I don’t have a copy,” Hauge said. “I don’t believe anybody in our department has a copy yet.”
Hauge said that, other than a daylong meeting in November, DNR deer specialists have been little involved with Kroll during his study. He said Kroll did have an hour-long conference call a week ago with agency biologists to speak about the final draft of the report.
Ironically, the DNR is footing the bill for the study, even though it was requested by Walker and is being overseen by the DOA. Hauge said the $125,000 is coming from hunting and angling license fees collected by the agency. He said the DNR forwarded $60,000 of the fee to the Department of Administration in January and just last week signed off on another $66,185 payment to Kroll.