Monday, September 24, 2007

Iowa's Deer: Beautiful, Destructive and a Target of Growing Concern

What is Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey most often asked about as he travels the state?
New opportunities in the renewable fuels industry? Iowa's water quality and how to improve it? The evils of factory farms? Nope, nope and nope.

Deer. It's all about those beautiful antlered critters that roam every nook and cranny of our state. Northey said that everywhere he goes, people are talking about the deer population, and more specifically, what can be done to control the damage caused by deer.

"It's the number-one subject I've been asked about in my town hall meetings all year so far," said Northey in an interview with Iowa Independent. Northey said he has visited more than 80 communities since taking office in January.

"We always get a lot of discussion about deer population," he said. "We're seeing a lot of private ground now where folks are not allowing hunting. There is a concern about that. Really, the biggest conversations at my town hall meetings are always about the number of deer. And it's certainly about crop damage from farmers, but it's also about accidents and the non-farm stuff too."

Northey said that deer have always caused a lot of damage to Iowa's traditional top crop -- corn. That's nothing new. But as many small farms operations experiment with new specialty fruits and vegetables, farmers raising those crops are finding a main concern is making sure their crops aren't munched by unwanted guests.
"In horticulture production, where two acres is their whole summer's work, it can get all destroyed in just a short while by some deer," said Northey. "Grape folks, orchard folks, if they're trying to plant an apple orchard or a vineyard, the number-one thing they've got to worry about is how to keep the deer out so that you can get your plants big enough so that they'll survive."

Throughout the last three decades, the whitetail deer population rose as the human population in rural Iowa declined. That growing population has caused problems throughout the state.
Crop damage is only a minor concern when compared to the danger posed by deer on Iowa's highways. There are regularly more than 7,000 animal-vehicle crashes on Iowa's roads each year. The Iowa Department of Transportation provided this link for statistics from 2001 to 2005. In addition to those statistics, the website has compiled data on Iowa traffic accidents involving deer, with a page of statistics for years 1993-2004.
An article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette recently reported that 2007 is already the deadliest year ever for motorcycle/deer accidents.

The overpopulation of deer in Iowa makes for some dangerous driving conditions, and it's obviously not good for deer that end up smashed on the roads.
Deer hunting, which is a big tourism draw for Iowa, is the most effective way to keep the deer population under control, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Willie Suchy.

Over the past two years the Iowa Legislature and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have been trying to enact policies to bring the deer population in Iowa back to levels of the mid-1990s.

"The important thing is to try to increase hunting pressure and to kill enough antlerless deer," said Suchy. Antlerless deer are not prized by most hunters, who generally go out to the field seeking a trophy buck. "What we're doing is trying to increase the number of antlerless deer licenses in counties that have too many deer. We've increased that by about 13,000 last year to about 113,000 total. So we are focusing pressure on those counties that we have good data that says that deer numbers are higher than we'd like to see them."

Suchy said areas of the state where the deer population is too high are mostly in southern and eastern Iowa. "Deer numbers in northwest and north-central Iowa don't seem to be in too bad of shape. They're consistent with where they were 10 years ago, and that's about what we'd like to get things back to."

Getting a reliable estimate on the number of deer is not easy, and the DNR uses varying methods for conducting a deer census. "We don't have firm numbers. We are saying we have some 380,000 after last year's hunt. We'd like to see that get down to around 270,000."

For farmers who would like to get the deer population reduced in their neighborhoods, the DNR has a program to help connect them with hunters. "For individual farmers, we have depredation biologists who can work with them to get hunting pressure on their land," said Suchy. "And those biologists have lists of hunters who are willing to shoot antlerless deer."

These efforts appear to be working, said Suchy. "In southern Iowa, seeing what's happened over the last two years with the increased doe harvest, our survey numbers are leveling off and in some cases coming down. We are having successes."

For Northey, he's thinking outside the box. He has considered working with the DNR to organize a "big doe" contest in an effort to encourage even more hunters to harvest the less sought-after female deer.

1 comment:

BigBuck_unter said...

I love hunting! I bought a hunting land in Appanoose County Iowa 3 years ago, I enjoy hunting whitetailts and birds during the weekend. I hope I can buy another property next year in the county nearby. By the way I bought my land from