Sunday April 20, 2014

Worries over whitetail numbers


Hunting season is never without at least some controversy, but this year nobody is happy including the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF), which accused the government of ignoring the science by allocating just as many hunting licences as in previous seasons.

“In spite of the hundreds of calls about dying deer and the recognition of the devastation that winter mortality would have on our deer populations, combined with the fact that any recruitment of fawns this year from surviving does would be minimal; there were no reductions in allocations,” wrote Darrell Crabbe.

Following a harsh winter in 2010-2011, numbers of whitetail deer were already depressed. Last year did not help them rebound as deep snow and a late melt created perfect conditions for higher than normal winter mortality.

In its 2013 hunting forecast, Western Sportsman magazine summed up the prospects for hunters.

“White tail populations can recover comparatively quickly with favourable conditions, but the deer numbers are currently so depressed that it will likely be several years before hunters see deer as plentiful as in 2010,” the article stated. “The southeast corner of the province (WMZ 31-39) traditionally holds the highest number of white tail deer and that is likely to be the best bet for 2013.”

But even here in the southeast, things are not looking good. Some estimates peg the population at only 40 to 50 per cent of pre-2011 levels.

“I would probably agree with those numbers,” said Aron Hershmiller, an avid hunter and manager at the Assiniboine Watershed Stewardship Association.

Hershmiller has been running trail cameras for years and said he has only captured about half the numbers he’s used to seeing.

“There’s no sign,” he said. “You talk to most hunters from Saltcoats to Ituna to Theodore and it’s the same story.”

The SWF called on its membership to express displeasure with the government.

“In knowing that our wildlife populations are as depleted as you experienced during this fall hunting season, the SWF would encourage all individuals to contact their MLA and express their displeasure in the way government chose to handle big game allocations and their failure to use science as the primary tool in managing our wildlife resource.”

In response to those concerns, Ken Cheveldayoff, minister of the environment, stood by the decision according to

“We have seen a decrease in deer numbers because of the difficulty of the last winter, but basically, I hear from the ministry of environment, I hear from the ministry of agriculture in regards to crop insurance claims. I also have discussions with SGI regarding incidents with vehicles.”

Despite the availability of tags, however, it appears hunters are taking matters into their own hands.

“We have to give the credit here to hunters,” Cheveldayoff said. “The total white-tailed deer allocations sold to date is about 48,400 and last year was 54,700. It’s actually down overall.”



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