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Hunting with guns started Saturday in MetroParks; deer-density debate continues

YOUNGSTOWN — The first firearm hunting this fall in the Mill Creek MetroParks resulted in six deer being harvested Saturday by six hunters selected through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources lottery. The six deer were killed in at least two parks — the Mill Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and the MetroParks Farm, both in Canfield.

The six deer killed by hunters were the only deer harvested last week because there was no archery hunting last week in the MetroParks, said Nick Derico, natural resources manager for the Mill Creek MetroParks.

In addition to the six deer taken by hunters, another eight deer were removed Thursday night by U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters in Mill Creek Park between Shields Road and U.S. Route 224 in Boardman, adding to the 30 removed by U.S.D.A. sharpshooters Oct. 11.

Derico said archery hunting resumed on Sunday in Hitchcock Woods and Huntington Woods in Boardman and will continue through the end of January.

Adding the six deer killed by gun hunters to the numbers reported previously brings the total to 148, Derico said. Adding the 38 killed by sharpshooters brings the total to 186 since the hunting and sharpshooting removals began Oct. 1.

Derico also weighed in Monday on the recent written remarks of Geoff Westerfield, assistant wildlife manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife regarding the number of deer Westerfield estimated are in Mill Creek Park from Shields Road to U.S. 224.

Derico said Westerfield’s analysis and the analysis the MetroParks carried out using infrared photography from an aircraft are not comparable.

Westerfield said he made a visit to the area between Shields and Route 224 on Nov. 21 and estimated he observed about half of the deer that were there. Westerfield said he tried to estimate “deer density,” even though the MetroParks isn’t “managing deer for a particular deer density.” He did not carry out a “structured survey,” Westerfield said.

But he estimated the density to be about 47 deer per square mile and estimated its density was about 80 deer per square mile before any deer reduction program took place in that area.

Derico said any type of survey is “simply a snapshot in time and can only be considered accurate at that time under those conditions. To compare the results of the infrared aerial survey to the observations of one person during one site visit three years later and under a different time of year/weather conditions is totally inappropriate: One does not prove or disprove the other.”

Derico said the most recent survey method employed in the MetroParks was in July when trail cameras were used. The results were an estimated deer density of 125 deer per square mile.

In the spring, MetroParks officials said using aerial, nighttime thermal imaging technology indicated that the number of deer in the MetroParks was 387 per square mile, which the MetroParks said was 19 times higher than the “carrying capacity of the land.”

Derico added, “Whether the deer density is 387, 125, 80, or 30 deer per square mile, it all comes down to vegetative damage — as we have demonstrated through our permit requests and the subsequent approvals from the Division of Wildlife.”

As for the helicopter snow count survey of deer Westerfield recommended the MetroParks employ this winter, at least from Shields Road to U.S. Route 224 plus a 1.5-mile buffer around that area, Derico said such surveys are “a great tool to estimate deer densities when the weather permits them.”

Derico said if the park system receives the required 4 inches of snow cover, “we already have arranged USDA Wildlife Services to fly a helicopter survey for us, but … snow cover of that magnitude has been hit or miss in recent years. We will continue to implement multiple survey methods including helicopter, trail cameras, and infrared surveys as deemed appropriate.”

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