Procedures for Countywide QDM in Georgia
By Ken Grahl and Scott McDonald
In 1993, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) initiated the first regulated countywide quality deer management program in the United States in Dooly County Georgia. This move resulted from a request by the hunting public and a desire by deer managers to study the applicability of countywide QDM. This program initially began as a three-year pilot study between the WRD and the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forest Resources.
The attention generated by the Dooly County experiment made it clear that the WRD could expect interest for this type of management from landowners and hunters in other counties. As a result, a committee of regional game management supervisors was formed to develop procedures for handling future requests.
The committee identified two options. The first option was to issue a position statement that the WRD was not in favor of regulated QDM. The second option was to develop a standardized procedure that included a position statement supporting QDM as a viable deer management option, but recommending that it be undertaken on a voluntary basis. However, it was further decided that if a clear majority of landowners and hunters affected favored countywide regulation, the WRD would consider implementing such action. The committee supported the second option.
From the beginning, the WRD has viewed countywide QDM as a private lands initiative and an approach that should not be forced on landowners and hunters. Since this was a substantial change from traditional management, it would require clear public support at all levels. After discussions, the committee decided that a two-thirds majority of landowners and a two-thirds majority of hunters would be needed to consider regulating this style management at a county level.
A five-step procedure resulted:
Step 1: Project Initiation:
To begin this process, an interested sportsmen's group consisting of at least 10-20 individuals from the affected county is required to submit a written request for countywide QDM. Since there is a great deal of groundwork needed to evaluate the deer herd and public opinion within the county, the local group must agree to work as volunteers with the WRD. The local group must also select a spokesperson to coordinate activities with WRD and allow any interested person to participate as a volunteer.
The request must be received by July 1, one year before QDM regulations would take effect. The letter must outline the group's support for the QDM regulatory process including, (1) the need for public notification, (2) evaluation of public opinion with a two-thirds majority support, (3) a deer herd biologically suitable for QDM, and (4) acceptance of law enforcement necessary to meet QDM objectives.
The County Sheriff, State Court Judge, Probate Judge, Chairman of County Commissioners, and County Extension Agent must also sign this written request. The WRD required these signatures as a measure of support for the process from the local government. Failure to obtain these signatures eliminates a county from consideration.
Step 2: Information and Education:
To ensure public notification of the process and concept, the sportsman's group is required to publish at least two articles in the local newspaper. The general format and context of the articles is provided by the WRD. The group must advertise and conduct one public meeting in the county by September 1, one year before QDM regulations would take effect. WRD biologists are present to discuss the pros and cons of QDM. All publicity and speaking opportunities by the WRD are balanced regarding QDM so that the public can make informed decisions.
Since regulated QDM is viewed as private lands initiative, it was decided that counties with more than 10 percent in public lands would not be eligible. The WRD believed that it would not be fair to restrict public hunting opportunity on public lands, nor would it be fair to restrict the private landowners but not the adjoining public lands.
Step 3: Evaluation of Support:
Mail surveys are the primary method used to evaluate landowner and hunter support. Since funding for intensive countywide surveys is not available within the WRD, the local sportsmen's group is required to provide funding for the printing and postage of the surveys.
WRD obtains the names of landowners from the county tax records. Opinions from at least 200 landowners with 50 or more acres are desired. Because of non-respondents, approximately 400 landowners must be contacted. If a county has more than 400 landowners, the required number is randomly selected from the master list.
To obtain the names of Georgia resident hunters desiring to be surveyed, the WRD distributes sign-up sheets within the county. Only WRD sign-up sheets are acceptable and these are provided to all license dealers and other locations designated by the Regional Game Supervisor. Sign-up sheets are available prior to archery season and are retrieved by November 30. All resident hunters who sign one of the sheets are surveyed.
WRD conducts surveys of both groups prior to the formulation of regulations in January. The results of the survey are not tallied until the deadline has passed. In other words, there is no "on-going" tally of survey results. Both surveys must show the required two-thirds support by landowners and two-thirds support by resident hunters or the process stops. Respondents expressing "no opinion" are not included in the analysis. It should be noted that either group (landowner or hunter) can be surveyed first. However, if the support for the first group surveyed is below two-thirds, the other group is not surveyed.
Step 4: Assessment of Deer Herd Condition:
Biological assessment of the county's deer herd is accomplished by WRD biologists. However, the data used for this assessment is collected by the cooperating sportsmen's group. As part of the agreement, this group coordinates the collection of harvest data from approximately 300 deer (100 bucks and 200 does) in the county. Data collected consists of jawbones and antler measurements. Jawbones with identifying information must be provided to WRD biologists prior to January 1. If no data is collected, the county will not be considered.
The data collected is also used by biologists to determine the antler restrictions necessary to protect all 1.5-year-old bucks. There are only two options allowed for antler restriction: (1) an outside antler spread of 15 inches or (2) a minimum of 4 points on one side. If neither option adequately protects 1.5-year-old bucks, the county will not be considered for QDM.
Step 5: Regulation Phase:
If the public opinion surveys, court system support, and herd conditions are all favorable, QDM regulations will be proposed in March prior to the season they will go into effect. Once established, QDM regulations remain in place for a minimum of five years. The WRD did not want a system where the regulations changed back and forth on an annual basis. Removing QDM regulations from a county requires the same process with two-thirds support from both groups. Since the WRD was plowing new ground with this process, it was agreed that this procedure would remain in effect until changes were necessary. Since 1993, more than 12 counties have initiated the process for countywide QDM and 7 counties have been successful with all of the required phases. In all successful counties, public support for continuation of the countywide QDM regulations remains high.
In conclusion, the change from traditional management to regulated QDM on a countywide basis is an involved and lengthy process. The information and education step is perhaps the most critical. Newspaper articles prepared by the media and other special interest groups are likely to provide misleading information. For example, the day prior to the public meeting in Harris County an article appeared stating that regulated QDM would make it unlawful to harvest any bucks in the county.
Additionally, it should also be made clear to the sportsmen's group that they are in charge of conducting the public meetings. DNR representatives are present only to answer questions. Otherwise, the public will assume that the state is driving this change and the meeting will turn into something other than an information and education meeting.
This is where we are in Georgia, still plowing new ground although with better equipment. So far this process has worked well for us and may provide some insight for similar initiatives in your area.
Ken Grahl is a Regional Supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Scott McDonald is a Senior Wildlife Biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.