Thursday, September 5, 2013

How a community can successfully get a handle on a swollen deer herd

If any community out there is fearful that a proposed controlled archery deer hunt would fail ought to first visit the Holden Arboretum in Northeast Ohio.

Straddling Lake and Geauga counties and spread over two townships, one village and one city, the 3,500-acre Holden Arboretum has for several years conducted a controlled archery deer hunt. All in an effort to get a handle on the four-legged riff-raff.

And it appears the nation's largest (or second largest) arboretum has just gone and done that, too.

All without stirring the pot of hyper-active opposition from either neighbors or Holden's dues-paying members.

By way of full disclosure, my wife and I are both annual Holden members, and I am one of the institution's roughly 65 to 70 permitted archery hunters.

Just how successful the controlled hunts have benefited the Holden Arboretum is seen in the cold, stark statistics kept by the organization's natural resources staff and backed by its small and fully functional police department.

Last year Holden's permitted hunters shot 30 deer, 24 of which were antlerless animals.

The prior hunting season (2011-2012) saw 49 deer shot. The season before that and the figure was 42 and before that, 47 deer.

Thus the permitted hunters have inches ever so close to achieving what the Holden Arboretum and any other deer-plagued outfit or community strives for: A healthy – but stable - white-tail population that is not at war with homeowners, motor vehicle drivers and perplexed community officials.

All three of those elements, by the way, are factored into how the Holden Arboretum monitors the comings and goings of deer on the reserve as well as the status of its plants.

Holden engages a multi-prong strategy to both study deer numbers and the impact the critters have on the arboretum's browse, says the institution's conservation biologist Mike Watson.

Presently, says also Watson, the best scientific projection is that the arboretum has 14 to 15 deer per square mile, down from the high-water mark of 30 deer per square mile as determined in 2006.

Ideally, Watson says, Holden's goal is to see a deer concentration of 10 to 20 deer per square mile.

“So we're about in the middle right now,” Watson said.

Yes, it has taken a number of years to achieve something close to parity in Holden's deer herd size yet the fact remains it is far from being an impossible or unreachable objective.

To assemble such success with minimal muss, fuss and expense, the Holden Arboretum utilizes willing archery hunters.

The Holden Arboretum does not lack for volunteers, each of whom have unique hoops to jump through.

Not only must hunters conform to Holden's set of rules (hunt only within their respective assigned zone, must report all kills, no harm to trees or plants, be courteous toward trespassers, among others) but observe the requirements established as well by Kirtland Hills Village or Kirtland City.

For the former that means registering with the village's police chief, obtaining a special village permit, the requirement that a permitted hunter must shoot at least one doe, and any buck taken must have a minimum of six antler tines.

In Kirtland City's case, any Holden hunter must kill a doe before shooting a buck, a rule enforced by virtue of the fact that all successful deer hunters must physically present their animal to the community's police department.

Oh, yes, Kirtland City likewise requires that each participant must successfully complete an archery proficiency test.

If any permitted Holden hunters believes either the village's or the city's rules are too draconian or unfair, they aren't talking. At least not publicly, anyway.

The reason is simple to understand, as well. The Holden hunters know a good thing when they see – and found – one.

They have exclusively use of a designated area for the entire length of Ohio's archery deer-hunting season, and generally enjoy few or no interruptions or harassment by non-hunters or even from other deer hunters.

In the end, therefore, not only is the Holden Arboretum within shouting distance of getting a long-term handle on its deer herd, but several dozen archery hunters are having a really cool time enjoying a pretty exclusive outdoors experience.

It's the best of both worlds and is something that other institutions, arboretums and communities can emulate and achieve.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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