DEC seeks public input on deer population, management in new statewide survey

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Area residents are among the first group being asked to participate in a new statewide survey seeking public opinion on interests and concerns relating to the deer population and how it is managed by the state.

A random sampling of residences has been mailed copies of the survey, whose topics include the extent of interest in deer viewing or hunting; types of concerns about deer such as damage they can cause; and whether deer population sizes should be changed. The mailing includes a postage-paid response.

The survey is sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), working with Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit (HDRU).

The DEC will use the findings “along with other input to set deer management goals in your local area,” said a Feb. 14 letter to residents by Cornell HDRU research associate William F. Siemer that accompanied the survey mailings. The DEC can issue Deer Management Permits, allowing hunters to harvest antlerless deer in addition to regular hunting tags, among steps to help control deer populations.

Seven geographic units in the state are being surveyed this year, with approximately 17 other units to be surveyed in subsequent years. Different parts of Oneida County are within three of the initial seven units, Cornell HDRU research aide Karlene Smith said Wednesday.

Each geographic unit is receiving 1,250 survey forms, sent to residences that were randomly selected from tax parcels, explained Smith. To help encourage responses, there will be follow-up mailings including reminders between now and mid-March, she noted. The Cornell HDRU hopes to compile some basic statistics by May, followed later by an analysis by Siemer, she noted.

While Cornell has conducted “lots of deer surveys” previously, Smith observed, they mostly have involved “focused areas” and this is one of the first to address topics like damage caused by deer and concerns about deer on a statewide basis. It seeks opinions including whether “you love deer...you hate deer” or “anywhere in between,” she remarked.

Among topics are how important is it that DEC considers these factors when managing deer populations: hunting; viewing; damage to gardens and plantings around homes; crop losses; damage to forests and native plants; Lyme or other tick-borne diseases; deer-vehicle collisions.

The DEC for over two decades involved “citizen task forces (CTF),” small groups chosen to represent a range of interests such as farmers, hunters and motorists, in the process of determining appropriate deer population sizes, according to dec.ny.gov online. But “over time many shortcomings became apparent,” the website says, and in 2015 the DEC began working with Cornell to develop an improved method for getting public input. It included a trial “pilot” project involving a mail survey, webinar series and a group similar to CTFs, before deciding on the new survey.

The 16-question survey primarily includes selecting multiple-choice answers, and it takes about five minutes to complete, said Smith. Even if respondents only fill out part of it, she commented, “we want to hear from people.”

Survey responses “will help ensure that results from this study accurately represent residents living in your area,” and respondents’ names will be kept confidential, said Siemer’s letter.

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