Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Indicators point to success of localized controlled deer hunts

With Lake Metroparks moving forward on plans to establish a limited, controlled deer hunt at its River Road Reservation in Madison Township, hopes are high that the activity will help manage the reserve’s deer herd.

Yet those hopes are tempered by a lack of statewide data as to their effectiveness.

However, there is more than enough anecdotal information by way of similar hunts done elsewhere that point to many more successes than failures, biologists say.

This point is especially true if the hunts are begun before the deer herd gets too far out of whack, says the state’s leading deer management biologist.

“There is no way to measure (success) at the very local level. We only have county-wide data,” says Mike Tonkovich, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s deer management project leader.

The thing is, says Tonkovich, these sorts of limited hunts “have such a small ‘footprint’” that detecting any impact on overall county-wide populations through an analysis of data would “invariably lead one to conclude there is no measurable impact.”

Yet Tonkovich says don’t read negativism into that statement.

“Just judging from the longevity of some of these kinds of programs they have to be proof in and of themselves that there is progress at localized levels,” Tonkovich says.

The controlled hunts that are conducted as such places as Ravenna Arsenal and NASA’s Plum Brook Research Station have demonstrated effectiveness in helping manage their respective deer herds, for example, biologists say.

“I do know that hunters had less success at Ravenna last season but that was largely weather-related. Our fly-over there showed still high deer densities but the intent at that reservation is to reduce the amount of deer-caused damage,” said Allen Lea, a wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Division’s Northeast Ohio office in Akron. “They don’t want them all killed, though, and I believe they are successful at doing that.”

At Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area and Refuge, its controlled deer hunts appear to have helped establish a stable deer herd there as well, Lea said.

“And that is what we are looking for, so it’s a positive,” Lee said.

Which likewise appears to be the case with the Geauga Park District. The district has conducted limited, controlled archery and gun hunts at a number of its reservations since the 2006-2007 deer-hunting season. Of the 17 park reserves listed by the agency for that year, 35 deer were shot.

That figure jumped to 150 animals during the 2008-2009 season and at 11 of the agency’s now-18 units being opened.

By the following year the number of deer shot had fallen to 135 animals and even though five more sites were opened to hunting.

This past deer-hunting season the number of animals killed on Geauga Park District land fell to 110 deer.

The best way that these hunting programs can be effectively evaluated is by those most directly affected – the local homeowners and motorists, Tonkovich says as well.

“If there is a reduction in accidents and damage to property, then the hunt was effective,” Tonkovich says.

Importantly, says Tonkovich, the public appears to be coming around to the need for control through various management mechanisms. Those systems include offering controlled hunts with a stated objective of maintaining a healthy deer herd for the good of the animal, the environment, neighboring property owners and motor vehicle drivers, Tonkovich says.

“I think the opposition has seen there is no other option,” Tonkovich said. “I believe the momentum is on the side of conducting well managed deer hunts.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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