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Deer Management: Why We Hunt

It’s hard to believe that deer may have totally disappeared from Indiana at one time, but it’s true. Of course no one knows for sure, but all indications are they were fully gone by the year 1900. There were no hunting regulations then, and forests in Indiana had been cleared and grazed to a greater extent than at any time before or since. There simply were few places for deer to hide, and hunting was a way for many Hoosiers to put food on the table.

Efforts were made by the Indiana Department of Conservation to bring deer back to Indiana during the 1920s. It was successful, and in 1951 the first deer hunting season was held. For the next three decades the deer population didn’t grow much. Many people still remember when it was exciting even to see a deer. In the 1980s, however, the number of deer in Indiana began to grow dramatically. There are no hard numbers on how many deer are found statewide, but the number of deer harvested set a record in 2012.

Unfortunately, along with greater numbers of deer came more and more auto collisions. Records compiled by State Farm Insurance reveal over 34,000 cars in Indiana struck deer in 2011, some of these producing injuries and even fatalities. The cost of these collisions was estimated to be over $100 million. The company estimates that the chance of striking a deer in Indiana while driving is 1 in 163, making Indiana a “medium-risk” state.

There is some evidence higher numbers of deer across the eastern U.S. have caused the rise of tick-borne disease as well. Lyme disease isn’t in the news like it was once, but according to the Centers for Disease Control the number of Lyme disease cases reported continues to increase. In 2012 there were an estimated 30,000 cases in the US.

These unprecedentedly large deer herds have had great consequences for the health of our forests. Deer can consume large amounts of leaves, twigs, and acorns. In some areas of the country, including Indiana, deer are changing the nature of the forest by eliminating many wildflowers and tree seedlings that normally would be present. Studies have shown that when deer populations get too high, low-nesting songbirds such as the Kentucky Warbler can be pushed from the forest.

Too many deer presents difficult choices for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. On the one hand we think of our preserves as places of protection for native species. Yet on the other hand we cannot allow one species, in this case a large herbivore, to become so out of balance with its historic natural numbers that many plants found on our lands, including rare or endangered ones, are threatened with their very existence. For the last several years, we have had a carefully managed hunting program on many of our preserves to address this imbalance.

In 2012 the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife implemented new regulations to reduce the number of deer in Indiana, especially where numbers are high. The most noticeable of these changes was making crossbows legal during the archery season and a second firearms season focusing on female deer beginning after Christmas.

We support these changes as we firmly believe that deer are a majestic and necessary part of the landscape, but like many things in life, too much is not a good thing.

 

 

 

If you have questions or would like more information, contact Allen Pursell, Southern Indiana Program Manager.

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