With his Texas drawl, his TV title of “Dr. Deer” and his disdain for some long-standing tenets of professional deer management, James Kroll was sure to stir things up when he was hired by Gov. Scott Walker to evaluate the state’s deer hunt strategy.
Strangely, the controversy that surfaced was over comments Kroll made a decade ago in an interview with a Texas magazine. Kroll was quoted as equating public hunting grounds with socialism and calling national parks “wildlife ghettos.”
Overshadowed by that sideshow was a sobering, scientific look at Kroll’s preliminary findings by Tim Van Deelen, a respected associate professor in UW-Madison’s Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology.
Van Deelen, who has worked closely with the state Department of Natural Resources on deer management issues, said in a letter to Kroll in early May that he found the initial findings “significantly lacking” in scientific content and objective analysis.
Others who commented on the report were troubled by what seemed to be a hastily assembled mishmash of personal comment appended to hundreds of pages of previously published studies. And the public meetings held around the state by Kroll, including one in Mount Horeb in the heart of the area affected by chronic wasting disease, seemed long on homespun sayings and short on science.
Of the preliminary draft, Van Deelen wrote, “The findings and conclusions drawn in the report appear to me to be significantly lacking in the scientific content and objective analysis one would need to ‘forge a new age,’ which I take to mean something similar to making big changes in Wisconsin’s deer management.”
Van Deelen found fault in the initial report with the following:
• Kroll’s reliance on public meetings and an online forum for gathering opinion. Research has shown, Van Deelen said, that people who volunteer their opinions in such settings are not representative of the larger population. Most important, he added, is that Wisconsin hunters who volunteer their opinion in these forums view management more negatively and are more extreme in their views.
• A biased and selective analysis of the “sex-age-kill” model that DNR biologists use to gather information for estimating deer populations. Van Deelen took a hard look at a critical study of the model cited in the report and found that Kroll had selectively quoted from the study to arrive at a negative conclusion about the model’s precision.
• Criticisms of the DNR’s management of deer habitat even though previous research found Wisconsin to be the country’s second most productive state in fawn births. Kroll, Van Deelen wrote, failed completely to consider the issue of a deer herd that is too large.
• A claim unsupported by any accompanying science that predators, primarily wolves, are having a major negative impact on the deer herd.
During the public meetings, Kroll defended the preliminary report and said the final analysis, due by the end of the month, will be much more complete.
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