Examining the Deer-Forest Relationship
3:33 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

DNR Plans 900-Acre Deer Study in Vilas County

DNR officials are planning a long term study to look at how deer density and forest composition affect each other.  

A DNR study will involve twelve forest parcels with different levels of deer and available forage.
A DNR study will involve twelve forest parcels with different levels of deer and available forage.
Credit Rennett Stowe

The study would divide 900 acres in Vilas County into several fenced areas, containing different numbers of deer and amounts of available forage. 

Some areas will contain no deer at all.  Low density enclosures will contain 3 deer over 120 acres.  Moderate densities will be 90 acres and contain four deer.  High density ones will include 5 deer in an 80 acre parcel.

DNR forest research scientist Dustin Bronson says those numbers capture a range of densities. 

“That equates to 16 deer per square mile, 28 deer per square mile, and 40 deer per square mile.  Which really represent for Northern Wisconsin, the minimum and maximum range of deer density that we’ve seen over the last 50 years.” 

Bronson says the 36 deer needed for the study will be trapped across Vilas County, and each will wear a GPS collar.  

He says the experiment hopes to develop more metrics to help manage deer at a local level.

“This experiment is not going to tell someone how many deer should be on the landscape.  It’s going to provide the information, if you want x amount of deer on the land, what do we need from a forest habitat perspective in terms of the amount of timber harvest, the amount of early successional forest that we need to keep those deer that we want healthy.” 

It will also provide data on how deer populations impact different forest ecosystems. 

The 900-acre Ontonagon Block in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest would be closed to hunting and public recreation. 

Bronson says though the study will progress over 30 years, preliminary results could come in as early as 5 to 10 years. 

The experiment is scheduled to begin during the winter of 2016-2017, with preliminary fieldwork to begin this summer.