It is hard to say if anyone could have predicted how successful Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Managed Lands Deer Permit program would become. Started in 1996 as a way to allow landowners and hunters to more easily catch up with harvest numbers, the program has grown to more than 12,000 properties covering almost 28.5 million acres.
The program is attractive because it allows the harvest of deer without using a license tag within an individual property’s quota and it offers an extended season to get the job done.
The program has grown and changed over the years, but now faces one of its biggest changes ever, a fee to participate. TPWD announced it is taking public comment on permit fees for the program up until the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s next meeting Jan. 23.
“MLDP is extremely popular and has experienced a tenfold growth in terms of both number tracts of land and participating acreage since it began in the late 90s. In 1998, there were 813 tracts of land enrolled in MLDP and about 3.1 million acres. Although the program has experience significant growth, the number of TPWD biologists who administer the program has remained flat since 2000,” explained Alan Cain, TPWD’s deer program leader.
Since the beginning the program has been labor intensive with up to 80 staff members giving substantial time annually to applications, population surveys, determining quotas and reviewing harvest success numbers. While some of that load has been shifted to landowners, hunters and computers in recent years the continued growth of the program, more than 2,000 new participating properties in the last three years, means biologists and technicians are not as available for other duties.
When the department was going through the process of streamlining its administrative portion of the program in 2015, members of its private lands and white-tailed deer advisory committees recommended adding a fee for participation with the revenue going toward additional wildlife staff positions. Cain explained for that to happen it required state legislation that passed during the last session.
With the help of the advisory committees and others the department has developed a fee schedule beginning with $30 for each management unit within a property in the Harvest Option. For a property divided into multiple leases that operate under a second Hunter Option plan each lease will also pay a $30 fee.
For a property under the more liberal Conservation Option the fee is $300. An additional $30 fee is charged per lease if the property is divided into multiple leases under a single management plan.
“Where you have a single ranch with three high fence pastures or different leases, the ranch pays an initial $300 for the first management unit enrolled in MLDP and $30 for each of the additional management units so you have a total fee of $360 for this property since it has three separate MLDP enrollments and three recommendations,” Cain said.
Special consideration is given for wildlife management associations and cooperatives.
Based on current participation, the fee would generate about $1.8 million.
“Fees for MLDP would go into a dedicate account, the Game, Fish and Water Safety account. Although the revenue is earmarked for a TPWD account the money still has to be appropriated. A rider to SB 733 was also passed this past session that provides appropriation authority for the next biennium,” Cain explained.
Although the MLDP program provides a lot of plusses for those serious about managing their deer herd and has changed the landscape on a lot of properties statewide, it also has drawbacks that have resulted in some properties dropping out over the years. The biggest is that a lease may find it does not receive as many permits as it has hunters or as many as the hunters would like.
There are pre-season surveys and paperwork required to get the permits, maintaining them during the season and reports after the season.
Another is that after the first year hunters find out just how hard meeting the harvest quotas can be. Turning around a herd from a deer per acre to a deer to six acres or more can take years of high harvest, followed by years of even higher numbers as conditions improve. It seems like fun until the hunters have to clean all the deer and find somewhere to give the excess meat.
Comments on the proposed fees may be made to Cain by phone at (830) 480-4038, email at email@example.com or through the department’s website, https://www.tpwd.texas.gov/business/feedback/public_comment/. Comments may also be made in person during the TPW Commission meeting January 23 at 4200 Smith School Road, Austin.