MN Audit Request Rough Draft. Suggestions welcomed.

B

bat man

Guest
Our DNR is tasked with many functions, and from a hunting standpoint whitetail deer are the number one priority. Deer hunters and viewers spend billions of dollars annually, and the same animal causes millions in damage to crops and vehicles. Finding the sweet spot that keeps everybody happy is an impossible task, but working towards a reasonable compromise when it come to deer numbers, and then successfully managing for that level is what management of the deer herd is all about.


There are many ways to manage a deer herd, and our DNR’s primary tool is a model. The model is used both to estimate the herd size, and for setting harvest allocations. The model in its simplest terms receives data inputs, and spits out information our DNR uses to make decisions in managing our deer herd. An audit of this model and how our DNR uses it is needed. The model is not functioning in the real world as it should on paper, and DNR recalibration is not at a level that allows the model to function.


When the deer harvest of 2014 is tallied, it may be the lowest recorded harvest since 1982. Our DNR will issue press releases stating the record low harvest was due to a conservative harvest approach in response to hunter demands to rebuild the herd, and kudos to them for finally taking action, but how did the herd slide so far? How did a deer harvest that was closing in on 300,000 animals in 2004 shrink so far that we will harvest less than 150,000 deer 10 years later. Could we really see the lowest harvest in 33 years? Either the model or how we use it have failed us.


The MN DNR led 2005 – 2007 stakeholder goal setting proceedings suggested a statewide herd reduction of 11%. Revisions to those stakeholder meetings would later change that figure to a 9% reduction from 2005 levels, but the herd has been slashed much, much further. The DNR model will suggest the state is now at that goal, but the model stands alone in that belief. From 2004 through 2013, deer vehicle collisions are down 51% as reported by the MN Department of Public Safety. The deer harvest is down 41%. Pope and Young record book entries by our Chatfield MN based conservation group are off 49% with consistent membership. Area meat processors report deer tallies 40% lower than DNR suggested reports, and hunter satisfaction with deer seen on stand has dropped 40+% in central MN.


How can the model show the herd is only down 9% when every other data set suggests the MN deer herd has been slashed well past 40%? Recalibration is part of the answer. Our DNR model allows them to go back in time and change deer densities to match what the model suggests. Here is an example.


In 2006, zone 225 in East Central MN was one of the zones to go through the stakeholder goal setting process. The DNR data at the time said there were 24 deer per square mile in zone 225. The stakeholders agreed to a 25% reduction (new goal range of 16 – 20 dpsm). As time goes by, the DNR has the ability to change that ‘24 deer per square mile’ to 20 dpsm, or 17, or 15 dpsm. But changing the original estimate does not change the reduction percentage, and the herd numbers keep going lower and lower. Going back in time and lowering the original estimated number of deer is a big reason the DNR can show deer numbers down only 9% or 11%, when every other set of data shows 40+% reductions. This practice of altering the original estimates may be necessary at times, but when hard science exists that says your model is wrong, you can’t ignore it. It happens more than you think.


In 2007 the stakeholders voted to stabilize the deer herd size in zone 240. At the Brainerd listening session last winter a gentlemen wanted to how zone 240 had an estimated 42 dpsm in the mid 2000’s and was to remain at that level, but now had less than half the deer and was at goal? It is the magic eraser and its ability to go back in time to change estimated deer numbers. The DNR model will suggest the herd size has been the same from 2006 through 2013, but the number is now 19 instead of 42 deer per square mile. The deer harvest is down 42% in zone 240 during that time period. The herd size has been anything but stabile.


Back to zone 225.


In 2006 the DNR performed a ground survey of zone 225, which was now under intensive harvest regulations (5 antlerless deer per hunter, sometimes 7 with the early antlerless rifle season). Their counts calculated 7 deer per square mile. The DNR thought there must be a mistake, so they flew the zone in 2007 and using the self described $15,000 ‘gold standard’ population estimate tool, and they counted 8 deer per square mile. Then they threw the 2 counts that are designed to double check the models accuracy into the garbage and walked away from zone 225. Attempts to reveal the findings of another aerial survey in 2010 produced a $267 invoice for the data to be delivered, which we declined. The DNR spent the time and money for 2 scientific tools to verify the models accuracy, and when the data did not match the model, they ignored the real numbers and continued over estimating the herd, and selling excessive antlerless tags in a unit proven to be well below the stated goal.


The model cannot function optimally when you don’t apply the double checks that are in place to insure model accuracy. The farmland model is said to function best when the areas of the state that are conducive are ‘surveyed’, or have the deer counted in a timely manner. In the transition zones of the state where the forest meets the prairie, aerial recalibration is the primary tool the DNR uses. When winter conditions are right, helicopters fly a predetermined stratified grid of a deer zone and count the deer. The number of deer that are counted are put into a formula that estimates the herd size of the unit. This ‘gold standard’ approach is expensive ($15,000 per unit flown), but the MN DNR states there is no better way to estimate the herd size. Failure to recalibrate by aerially counting the deer once every 5 years lessens the accuracy of the model. From 2004 through 2013 we only flew and counted 42 different units. That puts us on pace to fly the units once every 12 – 15 years when the models accuracy falls off quickly after 4 - 5 years. Failure to count the deer lessens the models potential, but by how much we don’t know.


Our model or its use and interpretation by the DNR is failing as a tool for managing the deer herd. Last December, with the deer harvest almost 98% calculated, some concerned members of the Morrison County MDHA chapter scheduled a visit with Beau Liddel, the Area Manager of the DNR Little Falls office. The MDHA members had concerns with the low deer numbers, and the continued use of intensive harvest in the zone. They were informed that for 2014, zones 221, and 222 would again be intensive harvest, with a probable early antlerless rifle season, and possibly a first ever earn a buck restriction. Had these concerned hunters not combined with several others groups to make some noise, the zones would have experienced a further reduction of the herd. Now the regulations are out and each zone is allowed only one deer per hunter. The DNR's own model was ignored after social pressures grew strong enough to ignore it. Our own DNR does not even fully trust the model. Our DNR’s model and deer management strategies need an over haul. We need more herd monitoring tools. We need accountability. We really need an audit to help our DNR figure out what tools are available to help better monitor and manage our deer herd.


Thank you for your consideration,


Brooks Johnson

MDDI (MN Deer Density Initiative)
 

wiscwhip

5 year old buck +
Brooks, IMHO your letter looks great. That said, I would be inclined to add the following "buzzwords/phrases" in there somewhere(last paragraph most likely). Mention that the thrown out aerial surveys are wasted funds and the audit will help the DNR to "streamline" it's process and become more "fiscally responsible" with the taxpayers dollars as they are related to deer management. You need more "science-based" management instead of management with "anecdotal" evidence. I mention the "science-based" approach, as that will give you hard numbers that are less easy to sweep under the rug and ignore which is what the DNR is doing with the "anecdotal" evidence it uses to adjust herd numbers currently. Above all, do not let them continue to dictate deer numbers based on desk jockey management. S-C-I-E-N-C-E!!!

"We need more science-based herd monitoring tools."

"In 2006 the DNR performed a ground survey of zone 225, which was now under intensive harvest regulations (5 antlerless deer per hunter, sometimes 7 with the early antlerless rifle season). Their counts calculated 7 deer per square mile. The DNR thought there must be a mistake, so they flew the zone in 2007 and using the self described $15,000 ‘gold standard’ population estimate tool, and they counted 8 deer per square mile. Then they threw the 2 counts that are designed to double check the models accuracy into the garbage and walked away from zone 225. Attempts to reveal the findings of another aerial survey in 2010 produced a $267 invoice for the data to be delivered, which we declined. The DNR spent the time and money for 2 scientific tools to verify the models accuracy, and when the data did not match the model, they ignored the real numbers and continued over estimating the herd, and selling excessive antlerless tags in a unit proven to be well below the stated goal.
Somewhere in these 2 paragraphs I would include the following: "The money spent on these thrown out aerial surveys was completely wasted and an audit of the DNR's deer management process will give the DNR the tools necessary to help them streamline the process and become more fiscally responsible with the taxpayers dollars."
The model cannot function optimally when you don’t apply the double checks that are in place to insure model accuracy. The farmland model is said to function best when the areas of the state that are conducive are ‘surveyed’, or have the deer counted in a timely manner. In the transition zones of the state where the forest meets the prairie, aerial recalibration is the primary tool the DNR uses. When winter conditions are right, helicopters fly a predetermined stratified grid of a deer zone and count the deer. The number of deer that are counted are put into a formula that estimates the herd size of the unit. This ‘gold standard’ approach is expensive ($15,000 per unit flown), but the MN DNR states there is no better way to estimate the herd size. Failure to recalibrate by aerially counting the deer once every 5 years lessens the accuracy of the model. From 2004 through 2013 we only flew and counted 42 different units. That puts us on pace to fly the units once every 12 – 15 years when the models accuracy falls off quickly after 4 - 5 years. Failure to count the deer lessens the models potential, but by how much we don’t know."

That's all I got for now, hope it helps. Good luck and keep up the good work.
 

leexrayshady

5 year old buck +
Do you need to put in references to your data? But it is written very well and very accurately describes the situation you have uncovered
 

fuldraw

5 year old buck +
Good luck hope the right people get to read this
Feel sorry for you guys up there
 
B

bat man

Guest
Do you need to put in references to your data? But it is written very well and very accurately describes the situation you have uncovered

I will be adding references to the final version.
 

j-bird

Moderator
I don't want to stick my nose where it doesn't belong, but.....The key to ANYstatistical model is coorolation to actual events. I'm an engineer in the automotive business and we use statistical models all the time and the key to them is being able to make them reflect actual testing data. I'm not talking about fudging the numbers so they work - I'm talking about adjusting the model so it works every time regardless of the input. It isn't easy and I can not tell you how to do it. I will tell you however that blindly following what your model tells you without physical confirmation is wortless and leads you to where you are in your deer numbers. Sounds like your DNR tookthe model as thefinal word and turned a deaf ear to th other sources of data - which isn't good science! Constant monitoring is still required and collecting data from various sources is an excellent way to get a clearer picture of what is going on. This is whereyouget you coorelation data from. The model maynever be perfect as willany oftheother data sources, but obviously it needs to improve. ONLY once you get significant repeatablity between the model and actual data can you even consider relying on the statistical model. This often requires many "tweaks" to your model and lots of data and time and understanding of WHY things do not add up.

If your car speedo reads 50mph, yet your eyes and ears tell you that you are barely moving - there is clearly a problem!
 
B

bat man

Guest
I am hoping the bird saves that reply for the OLA to review when considering our audit request.

Thank you J bird
 

j-bird

Moderator
Wasn't sure if it would help but I though it may stir some thoughts on the issue in a different way.

A little example of why we as managers should keep data:
I had a situation where after reviewing my own data a trend developed that I had not seen based on memory alone. 50% of the fawn harvest on my property where button bucks. To protect those deer I have imposed a rule that we will not knowingly harvest a fawn - before they where managed just like an antlerless deer/doe. If your goal is to protect young bucks - protecting them only once they had visible antlers seemed dumb to me. Without the data I may never have had that realization!
 

Jameson

5 year old buck +
Our DNR is tasked with many functions, and from a hunting standpoint whitetail deer are the number one priority. Deer hunters and viewers spend billions of dollars annually, and the same animal causes millions in damage to crops and vehicles. Finding the sweet spot that keeps everybody happy is an impossible task, but working towards a reasonable compromise when it come to deer numbers, and then successfully managing for that level is what management of the deer herd is all about.


...blah blah blah model this model that....blah blah blah


Brooks Johnson

MDDI (MN Deer Density Initiative)

Is the audit to make sure the model is working right? Or is the audit to make sure the DNR is working right? Working with the interests of everyone INCLUDING the hunters, those who primarily pay the DNR's wages, in mind.
 
B

bat man

Guest
Is the audit to make sure the model is working right? Or is the audit to make sure the DNR is working right? Working with the interests of everyone INCLUDING the hunters, those who primarily pay the DNR's wages, in mind.

The audit is to make sure the model functions, and if it does to make sure the DNR uses it correctly (science based inputs) to get us away from these crazy swings in the herd. It will offer suggestions to correct problems.

I feel confident we can exert pressure on the process to get reasonable deer goals, but the DNR use of the model w/o proper inputs has got to be corrected.
 

sandbur

5 year old buck +
Brooks- I have no idea how these request for action are written. I would assume that they are public documents.

Would we get further to change the tone of the request to working with the Wildlife Division to find funds to evaluate and upgrade the model? Get some outside experts from other states to evaluate what we have and how to make changes to "better use our financial resources"?

I would tend to be a little more Minnesota Nice, because we will need the support of many hunters and other people. Many of these hunters are somewhat satisfied with what the DNR is doing for deer management. (The guys I hunt with up in zone 1, wonder what I am talking about and why is there such a big fuss.. We need to get these guys to understand that the model is not working in some areas and that we would like their support.)

The specifics that you have above are very interesting and are some things that I had not heard of or understood. I think these things could be pointed out to our legislators and to fellow hunters in private discussions/emails.

I just think a different approach is needed to get more people and chapters/deer hunting organizations on board with the idea of an audit.

The above things are what I mean by some time to "Digest the information."
 

sandbur

5 year old buck +
Further thoughts are to not emphasize the low deer number issue. Instead emphasize the upgrading of the model with new technology.
Point out the changes in management and numbers of predator populations, changes in climate, changes in hunter attitudes, changes with on line and cell phone registration, changes with the youth hunting age and $5 doe tags for youth, changes in habitat with an expansion of agriculture..

Acknowledge three things in the request for an audit.

1.Deer numbers are too high in some areas and the model/system is not working. (This would get metro, Duluth area resident/city council, farmers, and north central lake residents on board for the audit.)

2. Deer numbers are too low in some areas and the model/system is not working.(Gets hunters from these areas on board.)


3. There are areas where the model/system seems to be working. However we need to upgrade it as indicated by the changes noted above. We need to make better use of our dollar and of the DNR's time and manpower. (Trying to get the taxpayer and satisfied hunter on board.)

Don't specifically attack the DNR in the request, but allow other organizations to support the request for the audit. At least the DNR will not oppose the idea as much.
 

Jameson

5 year old buck +
Are there some examples available of other audits?
 
B

bat man

Guest
Don't specifically attack the DNR in the request, but allow other organizations to support the request for the audit. At least the DNR will not oppose the idea as much.

The DNR is charged with managing the herd.

The are doing a terrible job.

Do not let them hide from that.

I don't really give a lick what the DNR supports or opposes right now. Their performance is inexcusable. They need help, and we need that change.

Lowest harvest since 1982 may be on the horizon. 33 year low is a possibility. And its on the MN DNR shoulders. Squarely.
 

sandbur

5 year old buck +
The DNR is charged with managing the herd.

The are doing a terrible job.

Do not let them hide from that.

I don't really give a lick what the DNR supports or opposes right now. Their performance is inexcusable. They need help, and we need that change.

Lowest harvest since 1982 may be on the horizon. 33 year low is a possibility. And its on the MN DNR shoulders. Squarely.


I agree with most of what you posted, but the key to success is getting the support of the general public, not just the hunters who have experienced poor management.
We need to find a way to get the general public convinced that the audit is necessary.

The DNR will clean up there act with the mention of the audit. The public might be less convinced to favor the audit after the DNR does so. The public needs to be convinced that the audit is a reasonable request by concerned people, not just hunters.

And I do feel that some managers must be doing a reasonable job from what I see. There is no need to alienate all of the DNR managers in the wording of the request for the audit.
 
B

bat man

Guest
We need to find a way to get the general public convinced that the audit is necessary.

In 2004 we harvested 290,000 deer.

Then our DNR decided to get aggressive on antlerless harvest. Goal was a 9% reduction of the herd statewide.

In 2014 we harvested 137,231 deer. A 53% decline. Lowest harvest since 1982.

DNR blames winter, wind, rain, and standing corn, none of which cut the herd in half.

ACCOUNTABILITY IS THE GOAL. Our deer leaders have no deer plan, and are lost when it comes to herd estimation.

We have to have an audit to help them. Whether they want one or not is a non issue.

Keep the conversation alive Art. We will get there.
 

sandbur

5 year old buck +
I sent you an email, Brooks. Word is that people around the lakes in the north end of my senatorial district feel there are too many deer. They are eating their shrubs and bushes around their homes.
Foggy probably knows more about this area.

We need to get these people on board with the idea of an audit before we can get our Senator to support it. Careful wording of the request will be the key.
We need to get satisfied hunters on board by careful wording.

I'm still concerned about who will be doing the audit. Hopefully, NOT someone with an anti-hunting agenda. I can remember the discussion at one of our meetings where it was pointed out that many newly graduated wildlife biologists are anti-hunters. Their college was paid for by anti-hunting groups. Sad situation....
 

foggy

5 year old buck +
I have to agree with a few of Sandbur's points....others not so much.

Lots of variations in the deer numbers around here. The city of Lakeshore (NE side of Gull Lake) is having an archery hunt to reduce the numbers of deer in the city (which has some pretty dense cover). Some of the areas around the cabins and golf courses have too many deer and little or no hunting pressure. Residents get upset when the deer eat their hostas and seeds out of the bird feeders. THIS is what residents see.....as well as some deer killed by motorists.

Many area residents do not realize the plight of hunters or landowners 30 miles to the south......and even in the nearby areas that are open to hunting. Oftentimes they do not care. We need to consider some of these resident opinions when looking for changes.....as they only know what they hear at coffee, at work, or on the golf course. They may, or may not share our passion for hunting.....and their numbers are many.

Other points I may disagree with.....such as reluctance to an AUDIT of the MDNR hunting model. The DNR is too busy protecting their "turf" to fix some of these issues. I believe the department is run more by social issues than by science....and the models used have not considered many new issues (predators, increased hunter abilities, longer seasons, higher tag numbers, etc) nor been properly corrected for too long. They need an outside audit to correct some of their ways......just as a business needs an outside entity to verify or suggest changes in the way it is run. An audit points to corrections needed to properly operate. No news here.....if the DNR was running properly, we would not have had this ongoing discussion. IMO, they are waaay off the mark with the deer program.....and an audit will help point out areas needed to change. The sooner, the better.
 

sandbur

5 year old buck +
Good points in all of those paragraph's, Tom.
I got to agree that a lot of those residents do not care, but they vote and legislators will listen to them as well to us who are further south in the district.

Your last paragraph, I got to agree that the DNR is defending turf and has not considered changes to our hunting regulations and to hunter attitudes.

Tom, you might have convinced me. The DNR wildlife division does need a shake up.

Foggy, how common is winter feeding of the deer, much like feeding the birds, in the city of Lakeshore? Further north, I see people feed the deer in the winter but then have to fence their garden in the summer.
 

foggy

5 year old buck +
Good points in all of those paragraph's, Tom.
I got to agree that a lot of those residents do not care, but they vote and legislators will listen to them as well to us who are further south in the district.

Your last paragraph, I got to agree that the DNR is defending turf and has not considered changes to our hunting regulations and to hunter attitudes.

Tom, you might have convinced me. The DNR wildlife division does need a shake up.

Foggy, how common is winter feeding of the deer, much like feeding the birds, in the city of Lakeshore? Further north, I see people feed the deer in the winter but then have to fence their garden in the summer.
I really don't have a clue on how many folks feed deer.....but I am inclined to believe more folks do so than I considered. I've seen lots of people buying cracked corn at places like Fleet and the feed store.....and talk about taking care of "their" critters. Kinda surprising.

Good to see your changing your attitude about the Audit issue Art. There seems little to lose......and the current system sure seems broken IMO.
 
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