Deer population increases in Iowa

BY KIF RICHMANN | JULY 13, 2009 7:15 AM

A Cedar Rapids woman was killed recently when a whitetail deer struck a motorcycle she was riding on Interstate 380 near Center Point, Iowa. The driver, Donald Bruce, was taken to UI Hospitals and Clinics for treatment.

Last month’s accident underscores a problem with Iowa’s growing whitetail deer population. The latest statistics show more than 8,000 animal-related crashes in 2007, resulting in 468 injuries and 11 deaths.

According to a report submitted to the governor and the Legislature, the Deer Study Advisory Committee said precisely measuring the deer population is not feasible, though population growth is measured through different statistics, including traffic accidents and aerial surveys.

The animals thrive on the state’s abundant vegetation; even in winter, snowfall rarely exceeds 12 inches at a time. These factors have helped the deer population grow to around 200,000, even after hunting season, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“The population’s been growing every year, and it seems like it’s more in the urban areas,” said Martin Mills, who works in the hunting department at Scheels in the Coral Ridge Mall.

Mills, who hunts deer in his free time, said he has noticed an increase in the deer population over the last few years, particularly in developed neighborhoods because they are safe from hunters in areas with houses and buildings.

While Mills said the shotgun season in Iowa could be a little longer, he feels Iowa hunting policies are adequate for the needs of the state.

Deer hunting provides the only major cause of death for Iowa’s whitetails — more than 165,000 deer were shot and killed in 2008. If left unchecked, the deer population could grow by 20 to 40 percent, doubling in as few as three years, according to state statistics.

In Iowa, only shotgun, archery, and muzzleloader deer hunts are legal. Mills said although many surrounding states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, allow rifle hunts, the state does not need them. Iowa hunters manage without rifles, which have a greater range than shotguns and can hold more shots than a muzzleloader, Mills said.

Gwen Prentice, the park ranger at Lake Macbride State Park, which is managed by the Natural Resources, says officials at Macbride have dealt with the large deer population in the past.

The park has never considered a shotgun or muzzleloader hunt, she said. The park’s layout — with many road entrances and water access — would make those weapons too dangerous because Macbride stays open during hunting season.

Even regular public hunting is not allowed at Macbride.

“Some state parks have shotgun hunts, but here at Macbride, we don’t have the ability to close the park down,” Prentice said.

Damage to the park because of overgrazing and complaints from area home owners remain major problems associated with Iowa’s whitetails, Prentice said.

In 2005, these issues led officials at Macbride to initiate an annual population management hunt. This hunt, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 1 and run through Jan. 10, has always been archery-only.

In the past, shooters have typically bagged as many as 59 deer in one year, Prentice said.

“You still see them [in the park], but it’s not the overpopulation. The browse line is significantly less noticeable,” said Prentice, and she saw a few fawns at Macbride on her way to the office on July 11.

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