A Labette County man stumbled upon a startling scene this week on state property — and now he is pushing for change.
Robert Broadway, of Altamont, said he was walking down the road Aug. 23 near 17500 and Douglas Road on the Big Hill Wildlife Unit when he discovered five mutilated deer carcasses that had been left to rot on state-owned land. Each deer had only its backstrap, a loin of meat consisting of the muscle on each side of the spine, removed before being dumped.
Broadway, angered by the wasteful killings, believed a local landowner used a deer predation permit — a common source of tension between hunters and farmers — to legally slaughter the deer.
Game warden Jeremy Stenstrom, who investigated the scene the next day, noted his disgust with the incident in an email to The Topeka Capital-Journal. He said the photographs were “unfortunately a scene that I and my fellow Game Wardens find disturbing and give the law-abiding sportsman a bad reputation.”
Broadway further described the scene in his email to the KDWPT.
“You could clearly see where a truck had backed up,” Broadway wrote. “There were two pools of blood in the road. The deer were slit up the back in the back of the truck, the backstraps removed, and then they were dumped out. You could see where the truck pulled away. These people were not in a hurry. They felt safe. This looks like a landowner behind a locked gate with a depredation permit to me.”
A depredation permit, which Broadway likened to legalized poaching when misused, is issued to landowners — often farmers looking to protect their crops from deer — to take a set number of deer on their land or nearby properties. The KDWPT also stipulates on its website that landowners who are issued the permits must agree to allow firearms deer hunting on their property during the year’s regular or extended firearms season, though hunter access is at the landowner’s discretion.
In an Aug. 24 email to The Capital-Journal, Broadway detailed his frustrations with the state’s policy regarding depredation permits.
“The questions that need to be asked are: How many deer in Kansas are being harvested legally, but ‘out of season’ by farmers and why are farmers allowed to treat depredation-killed deer like garbage?” he wrote. “Why are they not required to process the deer? This is a case of flagrant wanton waste and apparently, it’s legal. That fact is going to infuriate hunters in Kansas.”
He said several of the does had full milk sacks, meaning some fawns likely were orphaned by the wasteful killing.
“Without a requirement to process the harvest, we can assume much is wasted,” Broadway said. “As a policy consideration, at a minimum, why is there not a requirement to donate the meat to a food bank?”
While Broadway pushed for policy change surrounding the depredation permits — even going as far as to contact the governor’s office — some state officials urged restraint.
Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, said the matter was “highly susceptible to inflammatory rhetoric and opinions from all sides,” and as such he said it wouldn’t be appropriate to offer his opinion on the case until the investigation had concluded.
“That said, depredation permits are a legitimate use of wildlife management, and when responsibly used in adherence with Kansas law, they can be an effective tool to help control crop damage as well as loss of life, property damage and injury in instances of deer/motor vehicle accidents,” said Corbet, who also owns and operates the Ravenwood Lodge hunting resort in Topeka. “As a sportsman, I do not condone the wanton waste of game.”
Lloyd Fox, big game program coordinator for the KDWPT, oversees the depredation program. He said area wildlife managers typically produce excellent habitat, and many of the areas have high densities of deer. Occasionally, he said, crop damage occurs near lands the agency manages even though it allows open hunter access.
“Our employees would always prefer that hunters took the excess deer in a population and that they followed fair chase with high ethical standards, as well as used and shared the meat from the animals they kill to its maximum,” Fox said.
However, he said depredation isn’t considered recreational or “fair-chase” hunting, but rather a tool to cull deer to manage their numbers. In Kansas, deer are considered a natural resource, and deer populations are managed through a variety of tactics by the KDWPT.
“We are frequently caught between landowners with conflicting objectives,” Fox said. “That includes landowners growing crops and hunters and landowners growing deer.”
Tim Donges, president of the Quality Deer Management Association’s Bluestem branch in El Dorado, said he understood the challenges involved with balancing the needs of farmers with the needs of hunters and non-hunters. He said the KDWPT and farmers should “exhaust efforts” for the meat to be utilized in some form or to allow some type of doe harvest to occur on and around the property if needed.
“To be honest, the non-hunting public, along with a lot of hunters, would have a serious fit if they knew KDWPT and farmers were shooting deer and letting them be wasted,” Donges said. “At the end of the day, KDWPT and farmers need to be very careful about our conservation image to the public.”
Donges recalled a situation he witnessed where a farmer in West Virginia had shot more than 100 deer next to a public hunting area and left them where they lay. However, he said, the main rifle season the year before had been canceled because of an extreme natural disaster.
Both Donges and the KDWPT agreed that deer depredation permits were at best a short-term solution and more extensive management techniques are needed in the long term. Donges suggested setting up a Quality Deer Management Cooperative — a group of landowners and hunters working together to improve the quality of deer herds and hunting experiences — in the area to manage the deer population.
However, numbers from a KDWPT report show farmers may already be taking a different tact regarding deer population management.
According to the report, the issuance of depredation permits by the agency in recent years is actually down substantially from the program’s inception in 1999, though still higher than its lowest point in 2004, when only 39 permits were issued. At its peak in 2000, the program issued 284 permits, resulting in between 700 and 800 deer kills. In 2015, just 57 permits were issued — down from 129 in 2010 and 90 in 2013 — and about 150 deer were killed.
The report also shows the harvest of deer by hunters during the 2015-16 seasons was estimated to be 95,813 deer. That number is 2 percent more than the previous year, and of those 23 percent of the hunters were nonresidents.
Fox said the department typically limits the permits it issues to white-tailed deer and antlerless deer, and he deferred to local KDWPT employees who were investigating this individual case.
While Stenstrom said he couldn’t discuss the case until charges had been filed, he applauded Broadway’s efforts to bring the incident to light.
“Through the vigilance of Mr. Broadway, this is an incident where the facts and all competent evidence can be analyzed thoroughly,” Stenstrom said. “Mr. Broadway has shown a great passion in assisting with the investigation and should be commended by all sportsmen in his fight against the unjustice of violating wildlife law.”
KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison, who was emailed regarding the department’s policies on the wanton waste of wildlife, hadn’t responded at the time of publication.
More information on QDM Cooperatives can be found at http://tinyurl.com/guokh2u/.
To be honest, the non-hunting public, along with a lot of hunters, would have a serious fit if they knew KDWPT and farmers were shooting deer and letting them be wasted,” Donges said. “At the end of the day, KDWPT and farmers need to be very careful about our conservation image to the public.”