Citizens can share their views on the status of the state’s deer population and how the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission manages it in a series of upcoming forums.

They can also learn about and comment on the commission’s statewide evaluation of the deer population and hunter satisfaction with deer management in N.C.

The forum for the 11 counties in the commission’s District 7, including Wilkes and all adjoining counties except Caldwell, is May 18. The location and time will be announced when confirmed, said James Tomberlin, District 7 wildlife biologist.

Tomberlin said commission staff started seeing indicators of a decline in the deer population in 2011 and began gathering data to determine the status of the deer herd. He said surveys to help measure hunter satisfaction and season preferences were initiated last summer.

“So we’ve got these pieces of the puzzle and we’ll present them” in the series of forums, he said.  “We’ll present the results of deer hunter surveys sent out last summer and talk about some deer management options based on the results of the deer population evaluation and hunter survey.”

Tomberlin said regulatory changes in the 1990s and early 2000s resulting from concerns about deer over-population increased the antlerless (mostly doe) harvest to reduce the number of deer in the state.

“But many hunters aren’t satisfied with the numbers of deer they’re seeing now. We’ve heard their concerns,” he said.

Jonathan Shaw, the commission’s deer biologist, said, “We’ve killed a lot of does and that was by design, but there may be places where the decline has gone farther than hunters wanted to see. The most effective thing is to pull back on the doe harvest in some places and that’s where we’re at now.”

Shaw said the response to specific management options presented at the hearings will help determine regulation changes proposed for 2018-19.

Hunters reported taking 2,840 deer in Wilkes in 2016, down 16.5 percent from 3,402 the prior year and the least in Wilkes since 2,232 in 2012.

Wilkes ranked seventh among the 100 counties in deer harvest totals in 2016, but normally ranks higher. Wilkes’ harvest total was over 4,000 in all but three years from 2003-2011.

The deer harvest in all of District 7 dropped by 6.7 percent and statewide by 7.8 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Tomberlin said the decrease in Wilkes and the district resulted largely from a bumper crop of acorns and other mast, providing deer with ample food in the woods so hunters didn’t see them as much. It also made deer less apt to go to corn or other bait hunters put out near deer stands.

He said an outbreak of hemorrhagic disease, a viral disease transmitted by biting gnats (no-see-ums), caused higher deer mortality in the Hunting Creek watershed and contributed to fewer deer seen during hunting season in those areas.

Tomberlin said some areas of Wilkes and Caldwell still haven’t fully recovered from a historically severe 2012 outbreak of the naturally-occurring disease concentrated along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment in Wilkes, Caldwell and Surry counties. He said the outbreak helped restore balance to deer herds in places like the Stone Mountain area and overall improved health of the deer herd in these areas.

Habitat loss and other land use factors, as well as predators, also impact the deer population.

Tomberlin noted the growing bear population in the escarpment area and some other parts of District 7 and said bears will prey on fawns and old or sick deer.

He said coyotes can be a significant predator factor, particularly in areas without a dominant alpha male and female pair. Tomberlin explained that areas without dominant pairs may be occupied by higher numbers of coyotes.

He said license data and surveys indicate hunters as a percentage of the overall population are decreasing but the number of hunters in the state is holding steady because of North Carolina’s population growth and an increase in female hunters.

What is most concerning is the average age of hunters in the state is increasing, said Tomberlin. “Hunters are aging and we’re not getting (as many) younger hunters.”

He said there is a big emphasis nationwide on the three Rs: hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation.

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