Advisory panel recommends deer hunting in park
CANFIELD — The Mill Creek MetroParks’ citizen advisory committee has voted 6-1 to allow a white-tailed deer management program to be implemented to control what many say is a persistent deer overpopulation problem in the park system.
During a special meeting Friday afternoon at the MetroParks Farm, the committee recommended that the two-part deer removal plan, under the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, move forward.
The park board of trustees will vote on whether to adopt the plan at its April 10 meeting.
The two-tier program consists of nighttime controlled hunting at safe and select regional sites throughout the park, and a targeted-removal program at certain park facilities where firearm hunting is deemed unsafe and unfeasible. The latter also can include archery as a means of deer control.
The vote came after Nick Derico, the MetroParks’ natural resources manager, gave another presentation on what he and others contend is a longtime problem of an overabundance of the animals.
“Anyone who says this problem came out of nowhere is plain wrong,” Derico told the estimated 25 committee members and others who attended the nearly two-hour — and occasionally heated — session.
During any deer-removal efforts, those portions of the park will be closed to the public, which will be notified beforehand. Also, signage will be posted, he pointed out.
Derico said that the deer population in a section of Mill Creek Park south of U.S. Route 224 in Boardman increased dramatically between 2000 and 2020.
“There was a deer explosion out at Hitchcock Woods. You can see it with your own eyes,” he added.
Derico also discussed the outcome of a 10- or 12-question survey park officials put together, to which 407 responded. Part of the results indicated 53 percent of Mahoning County residents agreed that too many deer roam the park system; also, about 57 percent of county residents who responded felt something must be done to control the problem. The data was analyzed over a three- or four-month period, Derico said.
Doing nothing also is an option, but that likely will lead to the continued degradation of certain types of vegetation and undergrowth on the park’s properties. Relocating deer is not permitted per the Division of Wildlife as a management tool, in part because it can lead to the spread of disease, Derico explained.
A nighttime aerial thermal-imaging study in January 2022 showed that 387 white-tailed deer per square mile are in the park system and 355 such deer per square mile in Mill Creek MetroParks, officials have contended. The 387 figure, however, represents an average from all of the park’s properties, Derico noted.
Officials have said that 10 to 20 such deer per square mile is recommended.
Nevertheless, several people at Friday’s meeting took umbrage with the figures and the survey results.
One man took the position that the survey numbers are skewed, but that deer maintenance is needed, and another recalled the effects of a three-year controlled hunt in the park from 1998 to 2001.
A Boardman woman told the committee she felt that hunting is unsafe in general and questioned the efficacy of having controlled efforts to curb the deer population.
The lone dissenting committee vote to let trustees consider the management program was from Peter Milliken, who recommended that the issue be tabled until at least May or June to allow a more thorough examination of its complexities and intricacies. He also felt the survey was biased instead of “neutrally worded.”
In his remarks, Milliken advocated exploring other nonlethal methods such as a contraception program for deer.
“This is a complex problem that does not lend itself to simple solutions,” he said. “I hope the board members will keep an open mind and consider all options. Lethal methods should be the last resort, not the first resort.”
Echoing his view was Paulina McCallum of Youngstown, who said she is among many people opposed to deadly means for controlling deer numbers.
“I hate to think of anything being killed when there are other ways of managing them to make everybody happy,” McCallum said, adding that she favors further input and assistance from the Humane Society of the United States, along with additional research from Ohio State University.
Nevertheless, allowing the deer population to grow unabated also can lead to the disappearance of many native plants and invite invasive species to take over, Joshua Noble, an environmental scientist, warned.
Even a natural ecosystem such as Mill Creek Park is a limited food source for the animals. After the supply is largely depleted, deer will seek food in people’s nearby yards before returning to the woods for shelter and protection, Noble explained.
In addition, the park’s large trees, many of which are hundreds of years old, will eventually die. The ecosystem’s delicate ecological balance will be upset if deer consume much of the undergrowth that consists of leaves, seeds and buds, he added.