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DNR outlines plan to increase deer population after years of low harvest numbers

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Good news for the state's deer hunters who might've come up short last season.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced a plan to increase the deer population across much of the state following a public feedback period – which included complaints there were too few deer in the woods during the last hunt.

According to a DNR news release, the new deer population goals will affect 40 of the state's 128 permit areas in northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota.

Of those 40 permit areas, all but six will see the number of deer grow relative to last year's levels.

“The new goals largely reflect the desires shared by stakeholders who participated in the deer goal setting process and generally reflect the public feedback we’ve heard during the past few years,” said wildlife populations manager Steve Merchant.

This comes after a tough decade or so for deer in Minnesota – and for deer hunters, who have been bagging fewer and fewer of them each year.

The number of deer harvested in the 2014 hunt – about 110,000 – is significantly lower than the 160,000 the year before and a far cry from what MPR News describes as a "peak" harvest of 290,000 in 2003.

Last year's light haul was due partly to the DNR's tighter hunting restrictions, an effort to help Minnesota's deer repopulate.

One objection: Goals are too low

One group opposed to the new plan is the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, which the St. Cloud Times says is objecting because the population increase goals are too low.

An official with the group said during the feedback period, citizen groups couldn't recommend population increases of more than 50 percent – a number that some felt was too low. So the group asked the DNR to delay the implementation, the paper reports.

But DNR Fish and Wildlife Division Director Ed Boggess told the Star Tribune they decided to move ahead because citizens wanted to see more deer – and a delay would have meant deer goals that remained lower than most people wanted.

“People wanted to see a change from last year," he told the paper.

The agency says the goals are intended to be in place for the next three to five years.

Less licenses available

Of course, deer populations don't just magically get bigger.

As part of the growth plan, the DNR is continuing to limit the number of hunting permits available in the target areas, so the animals have a chance to reproduce.

"In areas where the goal is to increase the deer population, we're going to see fewer (anterless and doe hunting) permits issued this fall. We're going to be a little more conservative now to boot the population in the long term.'' DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr told the Duluth News Tribune

The paper adds that the "exact number" of permits the agency will issue will be known later this summer.

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Wildlife officials say they're reaching their population goals for deer, but the agency plans to revisit those targets as hunters report they're not seeing the number of deer they've seen in the past. The DNR says hunters bagged 192,300 deer last year. That's down from the peak, 290,000, in 2003.