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County forest management is a balancing act

“No man can serve two masters: for either he, will hate the one, and love the other; or else, he will hold to the one, and despise the other” Matthew 6:24.

Attempting to manage public lands for economic output, recreation and hunting is a challenge. One could argue that it is as impossible a task as serving both God and mammon.

It is a task the employees of the Taylor County Forest and Recreation department and the members of its oversight committee are charged with doing to the best of their abilities.

Those abilities came under intense fire on Friday morning as a large group of hunters came out in force to oppose even considering the creation of a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) zone in the county forest. While there, they shared their concerns with how the forest is being managed, specifically when it comes to the deer population.

By the numbers, the 2019 gun deer season was a lousy one. Statewide harvest numbers were close to half of what they were in 2018. Even though Taylor County fared better than the state, harvest numbers here were down more than 27%. There are many reasons for this.

Top of the list is the hunt was as late as it possibly could be and early winter storms wiped away half the season for all but the most die-hard hunters.

In addition, last spring’s April blizzard likely impacted herd population and health more than the DNR anticipated when the county harvest goals were set, as did this year’s extremely wet summer.

Admittedly, a large part of the opposition to the county forestry’s department management practices stems from the county issuing deer damage tags over objections from the County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC). Many CDAC members and supporters feel the harvest quotas set for public lands in the county were adequate and the extra tags were unnecessary with the potential for negative impacts beyond the forest boundaries. For many of these individuals the issue is one of control and having that control undermined by a public entity that is supposed to be responsive to the people.

From a forest management perspective, foresters have concerns about deer going into newly cut areas and overbrowsing on saplings preventing desirable tree species from growing in those areas. For deer, especially in winter, a recently logged area is as popular as a Taco Bell in a college town after the bars close. Those who have had their landscaping destroyed by hungry deer can appreciate the county’s concern about overpopulation. What might be a few hundred dollar’s expenses to a homeowner could have an impact of tens of thousands of dollars in lost forest revenues.

Managing the forest is a balancing act between those who want more deer and those who have concerns about overbrowsing. What policy makers must remember is that they serve the people of Taylor County above any single group. It is their responsibility to be good stewards of the land and resources held in their trust.

As with most issues, there is a wide middle ground with opportunity for compromise and cooperation to look out for the interests of taxpayers and residents.