Management of white-tailed deer by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is sound, and the agency’s methods of estimating deer populations are “commendable and align with best deer management practices.”

That’s the assessment from a report released Thursday by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor.

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But, the audit concluded, the DNR should improve its statistical methods and how it confirms its deer population estimates.

The long-awaited audit also calls upon the agency to develop a formal deer management plan and improve its resources for estimating deer populations, including more field research.

After reviewing the audit, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr agreed that “a formal deer management plan would help to define, clarify and prioritize deer management goals, objectives and resources.” He made the statement in a letter to the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Landwehr said the DNR is developing a deer management plan and will work to involve hunters and other stakeholders in that process.

Landwehr cautioned in his response, however, that the agency likely will not be able to collect information on deer populations “at the scale at which most people hunt or observe deer.”

The audit was prompted in part by hunter dissatisfaction with low deer harvests in recent years after a period of record and near-record harvests in the early to mid-2000s. Some hunters believed the DNR issued too many antlerless deer permits in some years, which they say allowed the deer population to drop too far.

In the agency’s deer-population goal-setting process over the past three years, some hunters were unhappy that citizen members of Deer Advisory Teams didn’t call for higher population goals. In that goal-setting process during 2015, the DNR adopted the recommendations of Deer Advisory Teams for 88 percent of deer permit areas reviewed, and a consensus was reached among advisory teams for 33 of 40 deer permit areas considered.

In setting deer goals, the legislative audit concluded, the DNR’s information “does not sufficiently address the availability of deer habitat and the impact of deer in local environments.”

The audit recommended that the DNR should improve its statistical methodologies and deer modeling data. The agency also should provide more data to Deer Advisory Team members during the deer-population goal-setting process, the report stated.

The audit called upon the DNR to “conduct field research to collect and utilize more information about Minnesota’s deer, and to validate DNR deer population estimates.”