Sunday, May 07, 2006

MINNESOTA NEWS: Deer descimate state Scientific & Natural Area

The Department of Natural Resources is proposing a deer kill on an island in Pokegama Lake, where deer have been decimating a rare evergreen bush.

Canadian yew once covered vast areas of Minnesota's northern hardwood forests, but in recent years only a few scraggly stems of the shrubs are found spread across the region.

Logging and clearing for homes left yew shrubs in many area exposed to direct sunlight, which they can't tolerate. On top of that, deer consider yews a delicacy.

A dramatic increase in Minnesota's deer herd has resulted in a further decline in Canadian yew bushes.

In 1992, many yew were found on 28-acre Chisholm Point Island in Cohasset. Old-growth maples shaded the ground, and big yew - in some places as tall as a person - covered nearly half the island.

The state purchased the island and designated it as a state Scientific and Natural Area in 2002.

But deer discovered the yew two years later, when they began wading out to the island and crossing over ice for the first time in memory.

"Back in the 1980s, there were spots so thick with yew that you couldn't walk through it. It was like a rain forest," said Randy McCarty, who lives on the lake near the island. "Now, there are deer trails everywhere where there weren't any.... There are places where the yew is literally gone, wiped out."

Steve Wilson, Scientific and Natural Area specialist for the DNR in northern Minnesota, visited the island in January and discovered deer were decimating the remaining yew. He knew he needed to take action.

"It's amazing how fast it's happened. When I went back this winter, it was much worse than last summer," Wilson said. "If we don't do something right now, we're going to lose it all."

The DNR plans to build fencing around some remaining stands of yew this summer, and plans are in the works to allow bow hunters to kill deer on the island this fall.

The DNR holds a public hearing Tuesday on the deer-hunting plan.

If a public deer hunt doesn't trim herd numbers, the DNR may move to a more intensive special-permit hunt in 2007. The DNR also may allow hunters to shoot more deer in a broader area around Pokegama Lake.

As a last resort, sharpshooters may be called in to trim deer that are frequenting the island, especially during the winter.

Wilson said the effort to save the yew isn't just an ecological issue.

"Remember that it's the related (Pacific) yew that gave us Taxol," Wilson said of the now-famous chemotherapy drug. "We don't want to lose something and then discover what it might have given us."

"If we don't do something right now, we're going to lose it all."

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