|INTERVIEW with Mike Tonkovich
Wildlife Research Biologist, Division of Wildlife
What do you do to help manage Ohio's deer population?
I determine how many deer people want and how many healthy deer the habitat can support. Goals are established for each county based on how people feel about the current deer population. Since we cannot manipulate birth rates, we manage the population by regulating deaths through hunting opportunities.
Who decides what the target goal should be?
Ohio's farmers have the most to lose from deer, because deer can destroy crops. So we conduct periodic surveys of farmers to establish deer management goals. Contrary to popular opinion, the opinions of farmers are very similar to those of the general public, including groups such as hunters. Therefore, we believe this to be a balanced approach to setting deer management goals.
We acquire the necessary data through periodic surveys of Ohio's farmers, usually through telephone interviews. Our most recent questionnaire was designed to provide information on farmer demographics, perceptions of deer abundance and wildlife damage, preferences for future deer populations and attitudes about deer and deer hunting. The survey results have been summarized.
How do you monitor the health and condition of Ohio's deer herd?
There is a limit to the number of deer an area can support. As that limit is approached, the condition of the herd will gradually decline - fewer deer will be born, survival rates will go down, and the body condition of all deer will decrease.
The size of a buck's first set of antlers is an excellent measure of herd health, so we monitor this. We collect condition data annually at about 22 sites across the state.
Poor herd health in an area may indicate too many deer thus prompting us to increase the annual hunter harvest there. The photograph on the left shows Wildlife employees aging a deer by examining the wear pattern on the deer's lower molars.
How do you know how many deer can be harvested each year?
We use population models to approximate how many deer are born each year and how many will die each year of natural causes. The difference is the number available for harvest.
What is most challenging about your job?
It is challenging to keep everyone happy. Where hunting access is limited, there may be too many deer. In areas where public hunting is permitted, hunters may become discouraged by the lack of deer because of the high hunter numbers.