Monday, July 06, 2009

ARKANSAS NEWS: Special Hunts Scheduled to Reduce Deer

Every year in Arkansas, thousands of drivers report crashing their vehicles into deer.

Hundreds more complain to their city officials about the animals eating precious rosebushes or grazing in backyard gardens. Deer in some areas have become such nuisances that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been organizing urban hunts over the past few years to thin herds around towns. Those hunters are allowed to use only bows and arrows.

Hunts are scheduled for September and January in Horseshoe Bend, Cherokee Village, Bull Shoals and Hot Springs Village.

"The main thing is we've been getting in a lot of car accidents with them. I've hit three over the last few years," Horseshoe Bend Mayor Bob Barnes said. "This was a very touchy subject. We put it to ballot, and having urban hunts passed with about 67 percent for it."

Brad Miller, a deer biologist for the Game and Fish Commission, said 1,215 people reported crashing into deer in 2007 compared with 1,216 and 1,213 in 2006 and 2005, respectively. The animals can often be seen grazing along roads, Miller noted.

"Basically, they eat weeds," he said. "If it's late in winter, they will likely be eating the grasses on the side of the road. At other times of the year, they like the clover or other various weeds like goldenrod."

A report on deer-vehicle-collision claims from State Farm Insurance lists 18,498 such accidents in Arkansas from 2007 through 2008. Nationwide, the report lists 1.2 million such collisions for the same time period.

Accurately calculating the number of deer-vehicle collisions each year is difficult.

"People aren't required to report the accidents to Game and Fish," Miller said. "So, our numbers are only those folks who called our 24-hour number where you can report accidents with wildlife or if you had something like a bear in your yard."

The State Farm data also include collisions with moose and elk. There is an elk herd in north Arkansas near the Buffalo River.

"This data is based on actual comprehensive and collision claims, and as such, would not include deer-vehicle collisions where the policyholder had only liability insurance coverage, which is typically carried on older vehicles in some states," the report reads.

Miller said that typically, city leaders contact the commission asking for help after resident complaints mount. Wildlife experts then go to the area and survey the deer population and make recommendations to city leaders.

After conducting surveys in 2006 and 2007, the Game and Fish Commission recommended in 2007 that Little Rock consider allowing urban hunts. So far there haven't been any.

The highest density of deer was found in the Two Rivers Park area near Pinnacle Mountain. The June 2007 survey found that the area had one deer for every 3.4 acres. The June 2006 data showed one deer for every 2.5 acres (256 deer per square mile).

Assistant City Manager Bryan Day said having a hunt inside the Little Rock city limits will require much discussion.

He said that eight or nine years ago, the city amended an ordinance to prohibit the discharge of weapons - including bows - inside the city limits.

"Game and Fish came to us a couple of years ago and said a lot of places were having successful urban hunts in other areas of the state, and they would like us to consider it," Day said. "We have forwarded the Game and Fish request to the legal department for review. We're very much in an exploratory phase, and the staff does not have a recommendation yet for the city Board of Directors."

An urban hunt is the cheapest option for an area with nuisance deer herds the Game and Fish Commission found, listing the other options as:

Fertility drugs: $2 to $10 per dose, but $500 to $1,000 to trap or dart each deer.

Trapping and relocating: $400 to $1,000 per deer, with a low survival rate expected for the animals in unfamiliar habitat.

Sharpshooters: $150 to $400 per deer, with harvested animals donated to needy families.

In an urban hunt, each hunter is required to donate his first deer, which must be a doe, to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

In addition to reducing the number of collisions with vehicles, Miller said, keeping the deer population in check is important because the animals are a "keystone" species.

"That means they have the propensity to affect numerous other species, some positively and some negatively," Miller said. "For ground-nesting birds, deer can significantly reduce the amount of vegetative cover, and they can potentially eliminate some plant species altogether."

Sitting in his west Little Rock office, decorated with antlers and trophy art made from game fowl feathers, Miller pulled up a photo on his computer to illustrate his point.

The picture shows a wooded area with a fence running down the middle of the frame. On the side of the fence where there are no deer, there are wild fruit bushes, saplings and shrubs bunched between the towering trees. On the other side, the trees appear to be growing from a carpet of ferns. No other vegetation is visible.

"The deer don't eat the ferns," Miller said. "They don't like them much."

After completing the necessary education classes, 250 hunters will be selected at random for each urban hunting season with the exception of the hunt in Hot Springs Village where only 200 will be allowed to participate.

To be eligible, each hunter must complete the International Bowhunter Education Program either in the traditional classroom setting or online. Once a hunter passes the program, the certification is good for life, according to the Game and Fish Commission.

The final step for a hunter to become eligible to participate in the urban hunts is passing a shooting proficiency test.

"Basically they will be shooting at lifelike deer targets from 20 yards away," Miller said. "They'll have to hit a certain place with a certain number of arrows to qualify."

Barnes said that while the deer in Horseshoe Bend have been ravaging flower beds and gardens and crashing into vehicles, he's not planning to be a part of the hunt.

"It wouldn't be to my benefit," he said. "There's no way I could hit one using a bow."

Source: NWANews

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