Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo
Andrew Holt, 14, of Montpelier, and his father, Norris, hunt along the edge of a field in Northfield during a youth hunting weekend.
CASTLETON — The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department held a fourth deer meeting Wednesday night at the Kehoe Conservation Camp in Castleton, but only a dozen people showed up.
Despite the empty chairs, the department’s deer biologist Adam Murkowski went through his entire presentation, detailing biological survey data from the recent deer season to offer a snapshot of what the department believes is the status of the Vermont deer herd.
The message was mostly positive, and after the past season’s harvest turned up larger-bodied and bigger-antlered deer, that good news might be why the room wasn’t full of hunters.
Brian Ames, chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Board and one of four board members at the meeting, said that generally deer hearings after bad deer seasons are packed, while hearings are less contentious after a good year.
A hearing in Montpelier on Thursday evening rounded out the department’s schedule for the year.
Whatever the reason for the low attendance, Ames said he was disappointed in the turnout.
The board was looking for more input on the antlerless opportunities it will offer for this coming fall deer season.
The recommendations are based on sightings, biological data such as weight and antler size, winter severity and other information.
The board has already voted once to approve the department’s recommendations at a recent meeting and will vote a second time May 29.
Unlike previous years where it took three votes to approve the recommendations, this year there will only be two votes.
Public input can still be offered by emailing comments to email@example.com by May 26.
Wednesday’s gathering turned into a question-and-answer session with one key part of the Vermont hunting experience getting a lot of discussion: hunter access to private land.
Everybody agreed access is one of the keys to better management of the state’s deer herd and to improve hunter satisfaction.
In some areas, the department is suggesting more deer be killed to maintain sustainable populations at the right numbers for the land to support.
But too many deer are finding refuge on private land while public land is being overrun with hunters trying to find all the deer the department says are running around.
Bryce Taylor asked about the topic, saying a piece of public property near his house sometimes has eight or 10 vehicles parked on it.
Murkowski told Taylor, the private land issue is hampering the state from reaching its population goals, adding the department doesn’t believe enough deer can be killed in one year to get to population targets and a large part of that was hunter access.
One of the tools the department is trying to use to improve access to private land is the new rule allowing landowners to post their land “without permission” — allowing the land to be posted but allowing hunters to ask for and get permission.
Ames said former Commissioner Patrick Berry did great work on the access issue and said he was confident the new commissioner, Louis Porter, would take up the fight as well.
Ames said another way access is being pursued is through the Current Use program, which is a political hot potato.
Berry pushed the idea of making access part of the deal to have land enrolled in the current use program.
“When I came on the board, you couldn’t mention Current Use,” Ames said. “Patrick Berry deserves a lot of credit. At least, it’s being talked about now. Our current commissioner (Porter), I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he will be as aggressive.”
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