Monday, May 19, 2008

IOWA NEWS: Sustained Cull Reduces Urban Deer in Dubuque

Urban deer-population surveys are inexact science, but the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Commission will present its deer-management plan to the Dubuque City Council on Monday with some good news.

The aerial count conducted in February recorded the fewest deer in the city limits since the bow-hunting program began in 1998, at 219. That figure comes after an unusually high number in 2007, when 466 deer were counted.

Greg Harris, wildlife depredation biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, monitors the aerial surveys in eastern Iowa. He said counts are down or stable everywhere except Muscatine, which saw a spike.

"It's nice to see the numbers down, but you can't explain it by the harvest," Harris said. "There are other factors involved and habitat destruction is one. That's something you can see through the air."

Harris also said the bitter winter probably forced deer to travel farther afield.
"If they're starving and there are food sources outside the city, they will move, and (they) won't move back in right away," Harris said.

The Dubuque City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Historic Federal Building, 350 West Sixth St. "Those does will drift back in."

The bow hunt, which opens in late October and runs through late January, targets does to control population growth. The city's goal is to stabilize the population below 20 deer per square mile. While that measure is often met north of U.S. 20, it hasn't been accomplished south of that line. According to Harris, reaching that "magic number" isn't of high importance.

"The better goal to shoot for is a reduction in damage and in deer/vehicle accidents," Harris said.

Mary Rose Corrigan, public health specialist for the city of Dubuque, reports deer/vehicle crashes dropped significantly in 2007 to 29. There were 48 in 2006, which bucked a trend of fewer accidents in recent years. From 1998 to 2001, deer/vehicle crashes averaged in the 40s, Corrigan said.

The city is divided into 12 deer-management zones. Harris said two zones that regularly have the highest deer concentrations also have some larger-property owners that don't allow hunters. One area encompasses nearly 2,100 acres in the northeast corner of the city, south of John Deere Dubuque Works and east of Central Avenue. The other is 536 acres south of U.S. 20, mostly between Fremont Avenue and Cedar Cross Road.

"The bottom line is there is always going to be a problem because of private-property rights," Harris said. "It would be easier if everyone allowed the hunters in, but that doesn't happen in rural areas, so it sure isn't going to happen in the city.
He said the key to population control is consistency.

"Once you start hunting, you can't stop. Let's say you hit this man-made magical number of 20 per mile and let up for a couple of years -- you're right back to square one. We come up with these parameters and want to fit wildlife into them. Wildlife doesn't play by man's rules."


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