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By MIKE CAPSHAW
Citing the political climate, issues involving exempt hunters and complaints from large landowners, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has tabled a proposal that would have required hunters to tag and report harvested deer.
The proposal was set to be voted on by commissioners during a meeting in Apalachicola today before a variety of concerns forced the FWC to explore different alternatives for managing the state's deer herd. Because it won't be voted on during this meeting, no system for reporting deer will be in place for the 2011-12 season.
“The timing was bad for a rule like this,” said Tony Young, media relations coordinator for the FWC's Division of Hunting and Game Management. “The political climate is for less government regulations, not more. We also didn't explore ways to count deer for exempt hunters. Plus, I think the commissioners were getting a lot of calls and emails from big landowners who were against (the proposal), so they lost confidence in it.”
The mandatory reporting system was unpopular with hunters across the state, especially locally where a meeting about the proposal in Chiefland was well attended.
“We really do take hunters’ thoughts into consideration, even though some don't think we do,” Young said. “We try to please the majority, and this is an example of that.”
The two-day meeting in Apalachicola began on Wednesday, with fishing the chief topic for the first day. Today's agenda focuses on hunting issues and one item reads that commissioners will continue, “discussions on alternative systems for gathering deer-harvest data.”
The tabled proposal would've put into place a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week telephone and Internet system. Each deer would be tagged and information reported would include date of harvest, location, method of take and type of deer, among other things. The data, other than personal information like the hunter's name, would have been available to the public.
Many hunting clubs already have their own management plans that address everything from the number of deer taken per person to the minimum size a buck's rack must be before it's harvested.
“The large land owners do a good job of managing on their own and wanted us to do it on Wildlife Management Areas, but not on their land,” Young said. “But that wouldn't really be a good, comprehensive way to get it done.”
The proposal didn't account for exempt hunters such as youth and senior citizens, which don't need a license to hunt. Therefore, they wouldn't have to report the deer they harvested.
As commissioners weigh public input, they are expected to draft a new proposal that would go into effect for the 2012-13 hunting season. The FWC has been charged with managing the state's deer herd as hunters have expressed a desire to improve the quality of deer.
Florida is the only state that does not require all hunters to report harvested deer.
“In order for us to better manage, it is still really important for us to know how many deer were killed and where, how many points, what weapons were used, and things like that,” Young said. "But we may table this for a while longer to look at all of the options.
“Since it won't get voted on in this meeting, we'll have a little more time because now the earliest would be the following (2012-13) season before anything could be put in place.”