The Department of Natural Resources has set its deer population goals for much of northwestern and western Minnesota, and the final results of the plan locally are to decrease the number of deer in many permit areas -- although not by as much as first recommended.

The Central Hills Prairie Block around Alexandria that includes deer-permit areas 213, 214, 215, 218, 239, 240, 273, 276 and 277 was part of the first year of goal setting by the DNR. The process for the whole state will take four years, with a separate group of blocks addressed annually.

In March, the DNR recommended decreasing the number of deer in most of the permit areas within the Central Hills Prairie Block. In permit areas 213, 214, 215, 276 and 277, the recommendation was to manage toward decreasing the herd by 50%.

That changed across the board after the final round of public input. Permit areas 213, 214, 215, 218, 240, 276 and 277 will now all be managed toward the goal of decreasing deer numbers slightly (25%) over the coming years.

“When we went out for public comment on the draft regulations, we did hear pretty strong opposition from area hunters for the significant reduction,” DNR Big Game Program Leader Barb Keller said. “That led us to revisit those recommendations, and when we reviewed public input that we collected in 2014, the slight (25%) reduction did seem to be more in line with the 2014 input. I think it’s a good example of the public comment process.”

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The DNR said the new deer population goals reflect Minnesotans’ diverse perspectives about deer, and many of the local permit areas are great examples of that.

Three does stand at attention between a corn field and a block of timber. Complaints of deer-caused crop damage from landowners in central Minnesota were part of the public input the DNR received that led to seven permit areas within the Central Hills Prairie Block being managed toward decreasing the deer population by 25% in the coming years. (Forum News Service file photo)
Three does stand at attention between a corn field and a block of timber. Complaints of deer-caused crop damage from landowners in central Minnesota were part of the public input the DNR received that led to seven permit areas within the Central Hills Prairie Block being managed toward decreasing the deer population by 25% in the coming years. (Forum News Service file photo)

Permit area 213 sits north of Alexandria and runs west to Fergus Falls and east to Long Prairie. Many parts of area 213 feature diverse habitats that help produce high deer numbers. For some, that’s exactly what they want. For some landowners, it’s become a problem.

“Deer numbers are high in this permit area and increasing, resulting in increasing crop damage complaints,” the notes for area 213 said on the DNR website. “Hunters prefer to maintain high deer numbers, while agricultural landowners prefer significant decreases.”

The DNR sets deer population goals – how much of an increase or decrease is desired in a deer population in a particular deer permit area – as part of managing the state’s wild deer herd. The goals set in 2020 provide the framework for annual decisions on deer-season regulations and are intended to be in effect for the next 10 years, with a midpoint review at five years.

The DNR came to its conclusion within each permit area after gathering information and feedback from over 700 online survey respondents, online comments, and conversations with area wildlife managers.

Public workshops, including two in Alexandria this past winter, were also used to facilitate small group discussions to both scope issues and create recommendations. Participants at the workshops reviewed information related to deer populations, harvest trends, habitat, browsing impacts and public health and safety.

They also provided local feedback on important deer management factors from their own experiences. People can find key issues that influenced the goal populations set for each permit area at the DNR’s deer populations & goals webpage.

In all of the permit areas locally where the goal is to manage toward decreasing the deer population slightly, it was noted that most hunters who voiced their opinion want to maintain high numbers and most landowners prefer decreases due to crop damage.

Permit area 273 west of Alexandria will be managed to increase the population by 25%. Permit area 239 north of Fergus Falls will be managed toward stabilizing the population.

In the first year of the renewed goal-setting process, the DNR focused on areas in the northwestern and western parts of the state. In general, the goals are to increase deer populations in the north, stabilize populations in the northwest and west, and slightly decrease populations in the central portions of the areas addressed this year.

“We are really happy with the participation and conversations we had,” Keller said. “We look forward to hearing from others in coming years.”

About deer population goals

The DNR updates deer population goals in 14 regional goal-setting blocks comprising multiple deer permit areas.

The goal-setting process will take four years to complete statewide, with several geographic blocks addressed each year. Next year’s process will include southwestern Minnesota and parts of northeastern Minnesota.