Del. officials discuss deer damage with area farmers
MILLSBORO, Del. — As crop damage from deer persists or even worsens in Delaware, Sussex County farmers and hunters met with state lawmakers and wildlife officials last week to discuss how to better manage the state’s large deer herd.
The meeting at the Gumboro Community Center was organized by Rep. Richard Collins, R-Dist. 41, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, who said recent legislation has passed to help the deer damage issue including the addition of Sunday hunting during the established deer seasons and legalizing additional appropriate weapons including pistol caliber rifles that Collins expects to have a big impact.
“You just can’t afford it anymore,” Collin said of the damage. “You’re getting eaten alive.”
David Saveikis and Rob Hossler from the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife gave an overview of the existing programs available to reduce deer damage. Saveikis said the division “fully recognizes there is a large deer herd in the state that needs management.”
The state’s Deer Damage Assistance program offers free tags for harvesting antlerless deer during deer hunting seasons.
A Severe Deer Damage Assistance Program expands the harvest to outside the hunting season to include Aug. 15 to May 15 and allows a wider variety of firearms during the time frame.
This year an interim Extreme Deer Damage Assistance program was created by the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Environmental Control that allows participants in the severe program to harvest antlerless deer from May 16 to Aug. 14.
Participants in the extreme program have to first be in the severe program, have the agriculture department visit and asses the damage on the land and must develop an approved deer management plan.
While Saveikis acknowledged a surplus of tags in the programs, only 27.4 percent of the tags were utilized in the regular program last year and 37 percent in the severe program.
“We know farm management is a difficult task, farmers have a lot to do… but there are tools that are not being fully utilized now, that’s my main point there,” he said.
Saveikis said the division aims to increase outreach to boost participation and get crop consultants, specialists and Extension agents involved in the conversation.
It also plans to further promote the use of the division’s certified master hunter volunteers for additional managed hunting.
Kyle Hoyd, assistant forestry administer at DDA said along with collaborating on the extreme damage program, the department is designating staff to visit farms to map damage and develop a GIS database, pursuing a cost share option to help farmers write deer management plans and improve access roads on public land to reach lesser hunted areas.
“We’re going to help you guys as best we can,” Hoyd said.
Feedback that came from the crowd of more than 100 farmers and hunters included combining shotgun and muzzleloader seasons or expanding the shotgun season as data shows it’s the weapon that brings down the most deer.
Exploring the options of night hunting and establishing a season to use dogs to hunt deer were also mentioned.
Early in the meeting, Collins mentioned the idea of some form of deer damage insurance that would be partially publicly funded.
“I believe the people of Delaware are running their livestock on your land,” he said.
Collins said the Gov. John Carney Administration is receptive to making regulatory changes that help reduce crop damage from deer and he’s hopeful more progress will be made.
“Two years ago, we wouldn’t be having this meeting,” Collins said. “Things are really changing.”
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