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Deer population management through hunting in a suburban nature area in eastern Nebraska

  • Author(s): VerCauteren, Kurt C.
  • Hygnstrom, Scott E.
  • et al.
Abstract

The Fontenelle Forest Nature Area (FF) maintained a hands-off management policy for 30 years until it was recognized that white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations had grown to such levels that they were severely degrading native plant communities. In 1995, members of a community task force decided to sponsor annual nine-day hunting seasons on FF after learning that densities exceeded 28 deer/km2. Archers harvested 85 antlerless deer in the FF upland areas adjacent to residential Bellevue, Nebraska during 1996 to 1998. Muzzleloader hunters removed 53 antlerless deer from the FF lowland areas. Archery and muzzleloader hunters harvested 297 deer during the same period in Gifford Point (GP), a state-owned wildlife management area adjacent to the FF lowlands. Overall deer densities declined from 28 deer/km2 in 1995 to 14 deer/km2 in 1998. Densities were at or near over-winter goals in all areas by 1998, except for the unhunted residential area, which still maintained 20 deer/km2. Annual survival rates for radio-marked adult and yearling female deer were 0.70 and 0.59, respectively. Archery was the primary mortality factor (20%) for radio-marked deer across years. Population models predict that densities would increase to 55 deer/km2 in five years if hunting seasons were abandoned in FF. Hunter behavior in FF has been reported as excellent and little public opposition exists.

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