According to Wisconsin’s White-Tailed Deer Trustee Dr. James Kroll, people who call for more public hunting opportunities are “pining for socialism.” He further states, “(Public) Game management is the last bastion of communism.”These are just two insights into the man who has been asked to provide analysis and recommended changes to Wisconsin’s deer management program. Kroll’s insights are from an article entitled “Which Side of the Fence Are You On?” by Joe Nick Patoski for a past edition of Texas Monthly.
If nothing more, the article gives an unabashed look into the mind-set that will be providing the Wisconsin DNR with recommendations on how to change their deer management practices. James Kroll (also known as “Deer Dr.”) was appointed to the Wisconsin “deer czar” position last fall. He was hired by the Department of Administration and instructed to complete a review of the state’s deer management program.
Here’s a sample of the article:
“Game Management,” says James Kroll, driving to his high-fenced, two-hundred-acre spread near Nacogdoches, “is the last bastion of communism.” Kroll, also known as Dr. Deer, is the director of the Forestry Resources Institute of Texas at Stephen F. Austin State University, and the “management” he is referring to is the sort practiced by the State of Texas. The 55-year-old Kroll is the leading light in the field of private deer management as a means to add value to the land. His belief is so absolute that some detractors refer to him as Dr. Dough, implying that his eye is on the bottom line more than on the natural world.
Kroll, who has been the foremost proponent of deer ranching in Texas for more than thirty years, doesn’t mind the controversy and certainly doesn’t fade in the heat. People who call for more public lands are “cocktail conservationists,” he says, who are really pining for socialism. He calls national parks “wildlife ghettos” and flatly accuses the government of gross mismanagement. He argues that his relatively tiny acreage, marked by eight-foot fences and posted signs warning off would-be poachers, is a better model for keeping what’s natural natural while making money off the land.
A trip to South Africa six years ago convinced Kroll that he was on the right track. There he encountered areas of primitive, lush wildlife-rich habitats called game ranches. They were privately owned, privately managed, and enclosed by high fences. He noticed how most of the land outside those fences had been grazed to the nub, used up. “Game ranches there derive their income from these animals — viewing them, hunting them, selling their meat,” he says. “There are no losers.” At his own ranch Kroll has set up a smaller version of the same thing. His land is indeed lush, verdant, with pine groves, an abundance of undergrowth, wild orchids, New Jersey tea, jack-in-the-pulpits, and other native plants. He has also set up a full-scale breeding research center and is one of twenty Texas deer breeders using artificial insemination to improve his herd. “We balance sex and age ratio,” he says. “We manage habitat. We control the population and manage for hunting. I want to leave the deer herd better than it was before we came.”
It is interesting to note that, in 2001, the State of Texas shifted its deer management strategies toward the same leanings that Kroll has suggested for Wisconsin. In Texas, the change was brought about via heavy lobbying from the high-fence deer ranching industry. This pressure helped convince the Texas Parks and Wildlife to change their regulations and allow private landowners to select the own deer biologists.
“That has given landowners more freedom,” Kroll told Texas Monthly. “(However,) You still have to let the state on your land to get a wildlife-management permit.”
The key difference here is that 98 percent of Texas is comprised of private land.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, consists of approximately 34.8 million acres of land, and 25.5 percent of the state’s 638,000 gun-hunters reported hunting on public land at some point during the season (2010, Duey, Rees).
According to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, more than 5.7 million acres of this land, or 16.5 percent, is publicly owned and used for parks, forests, trails, and natural resource protection. [Note: these statistics do not include the public land used for roads, government buildings, military bases, and college/school campuses.] This 5.7 million acres of public land is owned as follows:
Federal government owns approximately 1.5 million acres (4.4 percent of the state’s land area). Almost all of the federal forestland in Wisconsin is located in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
State government owns approximately 1.6 million acres (4.6 percent of the state’s land area). The land is managed by two agencies, the Board of Commissioners of Public Land (who manages lands granted by federal government) and the DNR (managing land owned by the state).
County government owns approximately 2.6 million acres (7.5 percent of the state’s land area).
Public land is located in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, with the most public land located in Bayfield County (464,673 acres). [Note: Menominee County does not have any public land, but 98 percent of the land is held in trust by the Menominee Tribe.] Twenty counties have more than 100,000 acres of public land, while only 12 counties have fewer than 10,000 acres.
What does this all mean? My initial reaction, which is one that I predicted when Kroll was named to the state’s deer trustee position, is that his team’s final recommendations — if implemented — will be heavily skewed toward the state’s larger landowners (500+ acres) and folks who own small parcels in areas comprised mostly of private land.
It is also my prediction that the final recommendations (again, if implemented) will do little, if anything, to improve deer herds and deer hunting on Wisconsin’s 5.7 million acres of public land.
Where does this leave the public-land hunter? “It will suck to be you,” said one deer manager who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for his job. “The resources and efforts will go toward improving the private land sector. This is all about turning deer hunting away from the Public Land Doctrine and more toward a European-style of management — like they have in Texas.”
I do, of course, hope these assumptions are wrong. As with all things in life, we should maintain an open mind to change. Life is all about change. However, change for the sake of change is usually a recipe for disaster. Especially when that change is driven by something more than a sincere desire to manage public resources for the greater good.
Reposted with permission from Daniel E. Schmidt editor of Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine.
Kroll is conducting deer management listening sessions around the state this week concluding Friday April 20th at Mt Horeb High School from 7 til 10 pm.