Management of white-tailed deer by state wildlife agencies is a complex process that involves balancing scientific objectives related to the health and abundance of a deer herd with the multiple, often competing objectives from a variety of groups. Structured decision-making (SDM) is a formal process that breaks a decision into parts that are individually easy to address. This framework provides a tool for decision-makers that allows them to reach ideal solutions to complex, multi-objective problems that are often present in wildlife management. However, before SDM can be used to solve specific deer management problems (such as mitigating deer-vehicle collisions or addressing deer population declines), it is necessary to evaluate several components that make up the SDM process, mainly, models of population dynamics and public preferences.

Regarding deer management, deer harvest data, which are data provided by hunters when they harvest a deer, often provide the foundation for models of deer population dynamics. For these models to produce accurate estimates of population parameters, deer harvest data must be evaluated with rigor. Ideally, all hunters would report their deer harvest to their state’s wildlife agency, however, this is rarely the case. Therefore, understanding how hunter reporting rate, i.e., the proportion of deer harvested that are reported, varies by weapon type, type of deer, and other factors is critical. Further, state wildlife agencies often use multiple data collection methods to obtain deer harvest data, such as in-person check stations, visits to commercial meat processors, and self-reporting mechanisms. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages that must be evaluated.  

In addition, human dimensions of wildlife research has emphasized the importance of including members of the public in the decision-making process. State wildlife agencies must incorporate the opinions and preferences of various people to make decisions and implement regulations that are trustworthy, transparent, and will earn public support. There is also potential for agencies to further engage with the public through citizen science, which allows members of the public to be involved in scientific problems through various means, such as collection of data. Citizen science can provide valuable data to state wildlife agencies at relatively low costs and offer positive opportunities for agencies to interact with the public.

Doctoral student Amanda Van Buskirk, in collaboration with Dr. Gino D’Angelo, Dr. Clint Moore, and Dr. Bynum Boley, is exploring the multiple aspects of deer management decision making in Georgia.

This project is funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The primary objectives of the research include:

  1. Determine how state wildlife agencies perceive the benefits and costs of citizen science and how those views influence support for implementation of citizen science programs.

  2. Estimate statewide deer harvest and hunter reporting-rate variability in Georgia. These are two common inputs for populations models that estimate species abundance.

  3. Evaluate opinions, attitudes, and satisfaction of hunters and biologists in Georgia regarding deer management practices and hunting regulations and assess their support for management decisions.

  4. Develop a model SDM framework for white-tailed deer management that combines models of deer population dynamics with public preferences.