- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An urban bowhunting program in central Iowa has become the most successful in the state, according to officials who say it has decreased the number of deer in the area.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said the 20-year-old program in Polk County, which allows bowhunting in designated areas within city limits, has dropped the metro’s estimated deer populations, The Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/22tUhBA ).

The agency’s data for the central Iowa region show a 12 percent reduction in deer populations from 2007 to 2013. Andrew Norton, a deer biologist with the DNR, said the numbers have leveled out since 2013.

“That coincides with what objectives have been,” he said. “The goal was to reduce populations, and in the past two (urban) hunting seasons, the goal has been to stabilize.”

There are other measures of the program’s impact. The latest estimate, from 2014, showed 12 deer per square mile in Des Moines’ Water Works Park, compared with 53 in 1998.

“It’s staggering how many thousands of more deer there would potentially be without the urban hunt,” said Bill Bunger, wildlife biologist with the DNR.

Experts say the overpopulation of deer can lead to destruction of forest vegetation, and the animals also can damage residential landscaping and crops.

Deer present traffic hazards as well. State Farm Insurance calculates that the chances of an Iowa motorist striking a deer over the next 12 months at 1 in 68. Polk County averaged 138 deer-auto accidents from 2007 to 2011.

The program starts typically around mid-September, earlier than the regular bowhunting season that begins on Oct. 1. The program targets females because they reproduce. Hunters killed 400 deer during the last season, mostly does.

Roger Jackson, chair of the Polk County Deer Task Force and a program participant, said hunting within city limits is a “different feel.”

“You’re hearing street traffic, and maybe the adjoining property that you’re on, someone is out mowing the yard,” he said.

Polk County officials try to gauge the program’s progress each year through an aerial survey by helicopter. The survey is done when there’s snow on the ground, and poor weather conditions have prevented the survey being completed in 2015 and 2016.

Data from 2014 showed an average of 39 deer per square mile throughout the Des Moines metro. Brian Herrstrom, a Polk County Conservation park ranger and the urban bowhunting coordinator, said the goal is 25 to 35 deer per square mile for urban areas.

“We need to get a good count next year to confirm a lot of things and see where we’re at,” he said.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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