Brandell, E.E., D.J. Storm, T.R. Van Deelen, D.P. Walsh, W.C. Turner. A call to action: standardizing white-tailed deer harvest data in the Midwestern United States and implications for quantitative analysis and disease management, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10:943411. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2022.943411
Recreational hunting has been the dominant wildlife management and conservation mechanism in the United States for the past century. However, there are numerous modern-day issues that reduce the viability and efficacy of hunting-based management, such as fewer hunters, overabundant wildlife populations, and emerging infectious diseases in wildlife. Quantifying the drivers of recreational harvest by hunters is necessary to identify potential solutions for these issues, but this is seldom accomplished because data collection practices limit analytical applications. Additionally, managing large-scale issues, such as infectious diseases, requires collaborations across management agencies, which is challenging or impossible if data are not standardized. Here we discuss modern issues with the prevailing wildlife management framework from an analytical point of view with a case study of white-tailed deer in the Midwest. We have four aims: (1) describe the interrelated processes that comprise hunting and suggest improvements to current data collections systems, (2) summarize data collection systems employed by state wildlife management agencies in the Midwestern United States and discuss potential for large-scale data standardization, (3) assess how aims 1 and 2 influence managing infectious diseases in wildlife, and (4) suggest actionable steps to help guide data collection standards and management practices. To achieve these goals, we designed and disseminated a questionnaire to state wildlife agencies, and we report and compare their harvest management structures, data collection practices, and responses to chronic wasting disease. We hope our “call to action” encourages re-evaluation, coordination and improvement of harvest and management data collection practices with the goal of improving the analytical potential of these data. A deeper understanding of the strengths and deficiencies of our current management systems is critical for developing comprehensive and collaborative management and research initiatives (e.g., adaptive management) for wildlife and their diseases into the future.