Over-browsing by a growing white-tail deer herd can adversely affect regional plant populations.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
In an effort to carefully manage the problems associated with the unchecked growth of the deer herd, Metroparks will allow bow hunting this fall on certain park properties in the Oak Openings corridor where public access is minimal.
The hunt will be tightly controlled and limited to unincorporated areas on land the park system has acquired in recent years. No bow hunting will take place in current Metroparks areas.
The Oak Openings region encompasses a swath of land some 130 square miles in size, and it stretches from northern Henry County, through sections of Fulton and Lucas counties, and into Michigan’s Monroe County. It is home to savannas, grassland prairies, and one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.
White-tailed deer populations, which can spike dramatically in urban, suburban, and park settings, can inflict severe damage on natural areas by over-browsing. They can effectively eliminate their most desired food sources, destroying habitat for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife in the process.
Once their preferred browse is gone, the deer present a threat to the region’s unusual plant life, which is extensive. There are more than 150 rare native plant species in the Oak Openings region, such as Prairie Thimbleweed, Dotted Horsemint, Atlantic Blue-eyed-grass, Gay-wings, and Blue Lupine, which is the sole host plant for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.
Steve Madewell, executive director of Metroparks, said as the deer herd expands unchecked, the fragile ecosystem is more and more stressed.
“With an ever-increasing deer population and limited natural predators, deer are adversely affecting plant populations across the park system,” he said.
Hunting and/or culling have been used in Ohio’s other major park systems in the Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, Cincinnati, and Dayton areas as an effective means of reducing the size of the local deer herd. Similar programs have been used in state parks, state nature preserves, and in some private nature centers.
“The park system has a responsibility to find a balanced, sustainable approach to resource management,” Madewell said. “Deer are incredibly beautiful. However, nearly anything in excess can have negative impacts.”
White-tailed deer are native to Ohio but were gone from the state in the early 1900s as the result of an extensive loss of habitat and over-harvesting because of a lack of hunting restrictions. As forested lands increased and hunting was regulated, wildlife management practices allowed the white-tail herd to reach an estimated 750,000 statewide in recent years.
Madewell said the issues associated with an expanding deer population are not unique to this area, or Ohio, but are having an impact on the ecology of many parts of the eastern United States. The Oak Openings region is especially susceptible to destructive browsing, because it is such an ecologically sensitive area.
“We have some very, very high concentrations of deer in these areas, and without a doubt there is evidence of heavy deer browse,” he said. “And what we know is that once they knock off their preferred browse, they will eat anything.”
The bow hunt is a pilot program to be conducted on Metroparks properties that are likely to be developed into parkland in the future, and most of which sit in a corridor between Oak Openings Preserve and Secor Metroparks in western Lucas County. Madewell said every effort is being undertaken to insure that the hunt is both safe and productive.
“The results of the archery program will be closely monitored and evaluated for its efficiency as a population control,” he said.
A lottery will be held to select qualified bow hunters to receive a permit to hunt one of the properties for three weeks during Ohio’s bow hunting season, which runs from Sept. 28 through Feb. 2.
To qualify, hunters must visit either Cleland’s Outdoor World in Swanton or Bass Pro Shops in Rossford and demonstrate a certain skill level. The deadline for applications for the hunt is Sept. 2, and hunters will be notified by Sept. 9 if they have drawn a hunting slot. Each hunter drawn will be permitted to bring a hunting partner.
Complete program rules for the bow hunt and a downloadable application are available at MetroparksToledo.com, via the Stewardship section at the bottom of the page.
OHIO SPECIAL HUNTS: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will offer special gun and archery deer hunts at five state nature preserves as part of the management plan to control deer populations that are detrimentally affecting native plant communities. Over-browsing has nearly eliminated the once-common official Ohio state wildflower, large flowered trillium.
The special hunts will be held at Goll Woods in Fulton County, Lawrence Woods in Hardin County, Gott Fen State Nature Preserve in Portage County, Lake Katharine State Nature Preserve in Jackson County, and Seymour Woods State Nature Preserve in Delaware County.
Applications for the hunts will be handled locally by individual preserve managers. For a complete list of the hunts, requirements, dates, etc., visit The Blade Outdoors Blog, or the ohiodnr.gov.
MICHIGAN PERMIT DEADLINE: The application period for licenses to hunt antlerless deer in Michigan ends Thursday. Interested parties can apply for a quota-limited license online at mdnr-elicense.com, or with any license agent or DNR service center. On Sept. 5, applicants should visit www.michigan.gov/huntdrawings to check the results and see how many licenses are still available.
Michigan will make about 554,000 antlerless deer licenses available statewide for the 2013 deer seasons. License quotas for individual Deer Management Units can be found at www.michigan.gov/deer.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.