Wildlife management big part of being responsible

The topic of wildlife management is one that often evokes strong emotions but plays an essential part in conserving our natural ecosystems for future generations. White-tailed deer populations, in particular, have risen exponentially over the last 50 years. Statewide populations peaked in the early 2000s at 750,000 – a stark contrast to 17,000 deer statewide in 1970. Currently, Ohio’s deer population hovers around 680,000 and is controlled through regulated harvest set by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

The rebound of White-tailed deer in the state is truly a conservation success story. But when overabundant, populations can negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem, and they require active management to remain balanced.

White-tailed deer are a keystone herbivore in the environment, meaning their feeding habitats can have large scale impacts on the vegetative community. Visual cues of damage include a distinct browse line, little to no understory growth, stunted forest regeneration, and proliferation of invasive species. These are all tell-tale signs of overbrowsing caused by a population exceeding ecological carrying capacity of the land (10 to 20 deer per square mile.) While these effects can be felt across all landscapes, they are often disproportionally concentrated in urban / suburban areas, including parks and municipalities.

In Mill Creek MetroParks, White-tailed deer populations have existed at concerning levels since the 1990s. Negative ecological impacts associated with overbrowsing were first observed by MetroParks staff and wildlife professionals from Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. In the absence of active management, the problems of unsustainable population levels and widespread ecological damage across MetroParks properties have compounded.

In response to these concerns, the MetroParks commenced a multi-year campaign to review historical data, gather current scientific data, assess ecological impacts and provide management recommendations.

The MetroParks recommends implementation of a facility-based management plan to reduce and manage White-tailed deer populations. This program will employ management methods authorized by Ohio Division of Wildlife. These options are based upon current scientific research and best management practices, including a controlled hunting program and a targeted removal program. The controlled hunting program, in partnership with Ohio Division of Wildlife, will utilize licensed hunters and traditional hunting practices to manage White-tailed deer populations at 11 Mill Creek MetroParks regional facilities. Second, a targeted removal program will be implemented in Mill Creek Park and Yellow Creek Park in partnership with USDA APHIS Wildlife Services. This management method is used in urban / suburban areas where traditional hunting practices aren’t feasible. The targeted removal program will utilize federal marksmen from USDA to harvest deer, with all venison being donated to local food banks.

Implementation of this management plan doesn’t suggest deer will be eliminated from MetroParks properties. Management of White-tailed deer throughout Mill Creek MetroParks is a long-term endeavor, the success of which will be achieved through gradual, but consistent, harvests annually, with goals of reaching sustainable population levels.

Non-lethal management techniques such as relocation or fertility control are not approved by Ohio Division of Wildlife for use in deer management programs.

Controlled hunting and targeted removal are commonly used management tools utilized by numerous park districts, organizations and municipalities to safely manage deer populations. Regional examples include Cleveland MetroParks, Summit MetroParks, Holden Arboretum, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, The Nature Conservancy and others.

The MetroParks strives to protect properties throughout Mahoning County, often preserving and restoring those that exhibit excellent natural features and environmental function. It is the MetroParks’ responsibility to preserve and enhance the integrity of our natural resources through best management practices and to promote biodiversity to the highest degree ecologically possible for all species of native flora / fauna.

Nick Derico, CNRP, is natural resources manager for Mill Creek MetroParks. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with concentration in wildlife and fisheries biology. He is a certified arborist and certified natural resources professional.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.85/week.

Subscribe Today