Following another well attended meeting at the Orofino Junior Senior High School, Dec. 15, the founders of Northern Idaho Whitetails Forever (NIWF) paid a visit to the Clearwater Tribune to report their progress, which has been substantial in a relatively short amount of time.

The locally based group has managed to see some changes made, and were successful in shortening the 2018 season by 11 days and eliminated the used of second deer tags. In January, NIWF will return to Boise to try and convince Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners to once again to shorten the extremely long whitetail deer season.

“In order to better understand why our current whitetail deer herds of northern Idaho have declined,” explained Bill Samuels, secretary of NIWF, “one has to go back to the 15 year-old plan from 2003. Many ‘unqualified’ assumptions were made and goals were set forth in the wake of those assumptions. The success of the plan was to be monitored by public opinion surveys, which is just another assumption.”

Samuels notes a number of problems with the survey generated. “The survey is too general. Individual units are not broken out; herd size and health are not addressed in any way; the survey focuses on hunters’ “wants” rather than what the deer herds “need”; herd definition, quality and quantity are lost to specific areas; the information from the survey is simply “social data”, biological data wasn’t collected, based on the assumption that it wasn’t necessary.

“All aspects of the management plan were decided by the 2003 survey in which there were less than 300 positive responses for all of northern Idaho.”

Statewide management direction

Based on the opinion survey, hunter satisfaction is high for the number of days of white-tailed deer hunting opportunity offered under existing hunting seasons, the opportunity to harvest a white-tailed deer, and the opportunity to harvest a mature white-tailed deer buck. The intent of this plan is to continue management that results in high hunter satisfaction. Another survey was to be conducted prior to 2010 to reassess hunter satisfaction.

Management direction under the 2003 plan is to provide minimums of 35,000 hunters with 207,000 days of recreation and the opportunity to harvest at least 8,700 white-tailed deer bucks, of which at least 15% have five or more points on either antler.

Those supporting the concepts of NIWF believe the quality of deer in the region, as well as the number of deer, have declined over the past several years.

They blame the length of the season that runs through late November, when the whitetail mating season is at its peak and mature bucks are more vulnerable to hunting.

They also said too many hunters flock to the region after other deer seasons have closed. In addition, they said the ability of hunters to use second deer tags puts additional pressure on the herd.

“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has dispersed recent press releases suggesting that many hunters reported being satisfied with the plan just as it is,” said Samuels. “In general, who isn’t satisfied with a 53 day hunting season? But as awareness and concern grows at public meetings, and through letters to the editor, we’re asking that a new plan for whitetail deer be drafted to include these factors.”

Under the old plan, a four or five point buck is automatically considered to be mature, according to Biologist Clay Hickey. The problem with that assumption is a loss of any actual age class distribution, which is key to understanding a well-balanced deer herd.

Other assumptions

Other questionable assumptions in the old plan:

  • A dense forest makes it too hard to collect biological data … therefore they won’t.The hunting opportunity can be very liberal and definitely occur during rut, because of the cover of a dense forest, and hunting does not significantly affect deer population, (again, they’re hiding in the dense forest).
  • Wolves are not a significant mortality problem.
  • Harvest data is assumed to “mirror” actual deer herd numbers.
  • The herds are managed by harvest data as hunting is assumed to be the only significant mortality.
  • The SJ Williamson study was adopted rejecting the practice of age class distribution for managing deer and declaring that managing whitetail deer does not need to be closely monitored as the population is not integrally tied to hunting regulation changes.

Three new chapters of NIWF have been created in Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene, Deary/Elk River. They unite with members of Orofino, in their quest to negotiate with the Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners, for further modifications to the 2003 plan

“We’re not pursuing this for selfish reasons,” added NIWF President Dirk Durham, “We aren’t doing this for our benefit, but for the sustainability of our herds, and so that our children and grandchildren will have the opportunity that hunters have so appreciated in this area for generations.”

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