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ODNR gives OK to remove 14 deer from Mill Creek Park

YOUNGSTOWN — Geoff Westerfield, assistant wildlife manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, has approved the removal of another 14 deer in Mill Creek Park from Shields Road to U.S. Route 224 in Boardman using USDA-employed sharpshooters.

The removals were scheduled to begin Thursday night and continue into this morning. Mill Creek Park natural resources manager Nick Derico said the sharpshooters will begin their work after sundown “with all roads, trails and access points to the park being closed. Derico said police will patrol the park all night to ensure nobody but the sharpshooters are in the park.

He said ODNR awarded the 14 additional permits on the condition that seven permits be used to collect antlered bucks. He said that stipulation may mean the small-scale harvest takes extra time to complete.

Last week, hunters collected eight more deer, bringing the total to 141 since the park and ODNR approved the reduction plan.

The additional 14 deer represent the final time sharpshooters will be used to reduce the deer population this season through March 31 in that part of the MetroParks, Westerfield stated in his Nov. 24 permit and letter to the MetroParks, which is available for viewing in the deer section of the MetroParks website.

In granting the additional removals, Westerfield said he made a personal visit from 6:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Nov. 21 to the area where the removal will take place and observed “16 independent antlerless deer and five unique bucks while driving between 5 and 10 miles per hour on West Golf Drive.”

He said he also drove the cart path on the Mill Creek MetroParks Golf Course “to increase the percentage of the park observed.” He also got out of the vehicle to look in some of the woodlots that were not easily observable because of visual obstructions.

He said he did not carry out a “structured survey,” but he believes he was able to see about 50% of the park area and believes he saw about half of the deer “within the park area.”

He said he tried to determine “deer density,” even though the park district “isn’t managing deer for a particular deer density.” He said “looking at deer density can help determine the level of deer using the park.”

He calculated that the density of the park area studied from Shields Road to U.S. 224 (.9 square miles) to be 47 deer per square mile. He noted that this number is “post removal of the original 30 deer” that were removed by U.S.D.A. sharpshooters Oct. 11.

He said the current estimated density of 47 deer per square mile “is still substantially higher than what is typically tolerable for positive vegetative growth in a forest.”

He said it means that the area had a density of about 80 deer per square mile before the Oct. 11 removals.

Westerfield said that because this is the first year of the MetroParks’ deer removal program, it will be important to evaluate how the deer removals affected the vegetation.

Westerfield said if the additional 14 deer are removed, as outlined in the permit, it would result in an estimated density of between 30 and 35 deer per square mile. He said he felt reaching that density “would allow the park district to have made significant progress towards managing deer within that area of the park and allow the park district to assess how those removals impact deer utilizing the area of the park through the summer / early fall of 2024.”

When the MetroParks outlined its plans to reduce the deer population in the spring, MetroParks officials said the MetroParks conducted a study using aerial, nighttime thermal imaging in January 2022. The study indicated the number of deer in the parks is 387 per square mile, which the MetroParks says is 19 times higher than the “carrying capacity of the land.”

The MetroParks said the number of deer should be between 10 and 20 deer per square mile. Derico has said the number of deer in the MetroParks is “a very serious problem.”

Westerifield stated in the permit letter that he strongly encourages the park district to conduct a “helicopter snow count survey, if feasible, this winter” at least from Shields Road to U.S. Route 224 plus a “1.5 mile buffer around that entire area.”

He said the survey would “allow us to evaluate the deer population in the park, the impacts these deer are having on the ecology of the park and to know the recruitment factor of deer into the park area for making future management decisions on the deer management within the park.”

Staff writer Dan Pompili contributed to this report.

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