Dwindling deer herds

Right out of the chute, the news is not good. Not good at all. Just understand what’s at stake here. It is not one-and-done. And this begs the question – where are the deer?

No one can say they were blindsided by this one – no one. But everyone, especially if they are a deer hunter – can say they’ve seen it coming. Every deer hunter who has walked into the woods these last few years has seen it. It’s been the talk of every deer camp and barber shop. There are a lot of hunters who did not fill a tag, and if you did, you really had to work for it. Culling has worked so well that hunters are struggling to find deer – but that’s OK by farmers and insurers.

The drop has been deliberate since 2003 as the state has aggressively sought to reduce what was once an exploding deer population. But deer hunters are now saying the state has been too effective in whittling deer numbers. Last year, the number of harvested deer dropped to 99,406 – a 30 percent decline in deer harvested since 2008. Hunters are now harvesting fewer and fewer deer as the state’s deer population declines. The last time deer hunters harvested fewer than 100,000 was in 1995. A real downhill slide.

The state intentionally reduced the deer herds. We were seeing too many accidents. But we’ve gone too far. Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources has not had a lot of say in the matter. The decision should be based on science, not influence from special interest groups. Gov. Terry Branstad, has rejected recommendations by the state natural resources agency to reduce hunting in an effort to rebuild the herd, allegedly bowing to influence from farming and insurance groups that would like to see fewer deer. For example, two years ago the DNR wanted to cut the number of antler-less deer tags by 26,000 in order to rebuild the herd. The governor, using his executive power, allowed doe tags to be reduced by only 13,000. Too, Iowa lost about 4,000 deer over the past two years to epizootic hemorrhagic disease or EHD. It’s spread by biting midges, which are tiny flies, and is more prevalent in dry years because it spreads when deer congregate at fewer watering holes. Unfortunately, the deer population decision is political, and must reflect residents’ concerns, which include motorists’ safety and losses to farmers and insurers, along with interests of hunters and other conservationists. Agreement with the decision is determined somewhat (maybe a lot) by what side you’re on.

An Iowa Farm Bureau Federation survey in 2012 showed about half of the farmers surveyed believed the state had too many deer. About 70 percent said that deer had damaged crops over the past five years. Willie Suchy, the DNR’s wildlife research unit leader said the state is close to herd balance in 80 of 99 counties. Suchy says we’re roughly either at or slightly below where we think is a good place to be. The bottom couple of tiers of counties in Southern Iowa, however, still have too many deer.

The good news is that deer hunting should improve. Given fewer hunters and fewer hunts, the deer numbers will improve. Deer have plenty of food in Iowa and could easily double their population in three or four years without heavy hunting.

Robins returning

We drove through Waterworks Park in Des Moines last week and 300 to 400 robins were in the park – either basking in the sun or eating tiny wild crab apples. I’m not sure why they’re arriving so early. Maybe they’ve been driven up here by early spring storms down south. No matter. They’re here and more seem to be arriving daily.

Hunting seasons closed

Well, almost anyway. For the most part it is all over but the shouting. Pigeon season is still open. It now is a continuously open season. Crow season is now open and remains open until March 31. Coyote and groundhog both now have continuously open seasons. Rabbit season is now closed. It’s all over until the Youth Season for Spring Turkey Hunting opens April 5.

And now have a good weekend.