Deer
Management

at River Bend Nature Center

updated March 24, 2012

deer in path
   

At this time, River Bend does not plan to hold a hunt in 2009

View data charts that include totals from all four hunts

After watching the rise in deer numbers since our previous deer management hunts in 1999 and 2000, the staff and board of River Bend elected to again conduct deer management hunts during the fall of 2005 and 2006. We are focusing on several other aspects of our habitat recovery effort as well, including the management of reforestation plots and the removal of European buckthorn, an invasive species.

If you have any question please call us 507.332.7151.


River Bend never collects any fees or funds whatsoever from hunters or any entity when conducting deer management hunts. The only goal in conducting such hunts is to protect the nature of River Bend.


Historical Perspective and
Management Options

 

Q: Will River Bend stage a hunt every year?

A: No. The primary purpose of the hunt is not to provide ongoing hunting opportunities, but to manage the deer herd at a responsible level. It will only take place when River Bend’s Board of Directors and staff feel it is appropriate.

Q: Are there too many deer in River Bend Nature Center?

A: The MN Department of Natural Resources regularly monitors deer population levels in important wintering areas such as River Bend’s valley. These annual surveys have concluded that the population has increased significantly in the last two decades. Most of the increase has occurred, as is typical with deer, in just the last few years.

Q: I like to see deer, so what is the concern about having so many?

A: Deer are herbivores capable of impacting the land that they inhabit in many ways. They have definite food preferences, usually towards the native plant species upon which the other animals of River Bend depend as well. When deer numbers climb to such high levels for more than just a few years, changes take place that negatively impact River Bend’s rich diversity of plants and animals. Non-native or invasive species, such as European buckthorn, tend to be ignored by deer and soon flourish in what was previously a diverse, thriving community. River Bend’s stewardship responsibilities for the land requires us to consider the habitat needs of all the species that live here, not just the popular deer.
Examples of nature centers that have suffered long-term devastation and are now poorly suited for native species are numerous. We want to make sure River Bend doesn’t end up that way as well.

Q: I hear what you say, but I’m still not convinced. I see green plants everywhere and the deer seem to be doing just fine. How can we know for sure that there is a problem?

A: Previously, researchers from the University of Minnesota studied the impact of the deer numbers on the plant populations of River Bend. Such studies have occurred elsewhere as well. They show that these impacts are measurable, and in River Bend’s case, now documented. Our spring wildflower and summer undergrowth species are of special concern, along with the native trees. Contact River Bend if you are interested in reviewing these studies, or would like a tour to see these effects for yourself.

Q: How did River Bend’s deer population get so out of control?

Deer were virtually eliminated from the Rice County area by early in the century due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss, and their numbers have been on the increase ever since. While a lack of natural predators is often stated as the reason for the rise in deer numbers, in reality deer have certain adaptations that have always enabled them to react quickly to favorable conditions and strongly recover after any severe drop in population. Around one out of every four deer in Minnesota dies each year due to hunting, auto collisions, natural causes, etc. and yet the numbers still continue to climb. The mild winters of the last few years have only exacerbated the problem. The habitat we’ve created for deer in southern Minnesota encourages highly successful reproduction in the summer thanks to the abundance of agriculture and forest edges, yet forces them to inhabit very limited wintering areas with suitable cover. Each winter and spring the winter-stressed deer exact their considerable toll on the native plant populations in these areas, such as River Bend. River Bend’s first set of management hunts, held in 1999 and 2000, had the desired effect on the wintering population. Counts dropped from over 200 to just a few dozen. With our numbers currently between 100-200, the goal of the 2005 and 2006 hunts is to keep the numbers from reaching another high mark like we saw almost a decade ago.

Q: So is it a deer problem or a people problem?

A: Clearly the deer are reacting to our human-altered environment. However, since we can’t pack up and move, cease all agricultural practices, and turn southern Minnesota back to the wild, as stewards of the land River Bend feels a definite responsibility to fulfill a very important part of its mission: protecting the natural world around us. That includes managing aspects of the natural world that have gone askew due to our presence and influence.

Q: Who’s going to do the hunting?

A: River Bend will manage an application process for hunters who wish to apply for a permit to hunt. We will require that each hunter has the permits that will allow them to harvest two deer, with all applications to be reviewed by a selection committee. Feel free to contact River Bend for further information.

Q: What precautions will be taken to protect surrounding landowners and visitors?

A: River Bend is very concerned about public safety. Our borders will be closed for the two days of the hunt and all boundaries will be clearly posted. Main entrance points will be monitored by River Bend volunteers or staff to answer visitor questions. Buffer zones will restrict hunters to safe areas away from houses, the correctional facility, roads, and each other. All hunters will be required to attend an orientation session prior to the hunt to learn these and other specific rules, many of which will be in place as safety considerations.

Q: Isn’t there any other way to manage the deer population at this point without having to kill the deer?

A: Sterilization, birth control, and similar ideas have been explored, but the technology and methodology does not currently exist to accomplish such plans in an open setting such as River Bend. Even if there were, such activities would not reduce the current deer herd, and thus an overall lowering of deer numbers would still be a necessary step.

Q: Can’t River Bend just move the deer?

A: Trapping and relocation methods are not an option for a variety of reasons. Such a plan would be very expensive and impractical in an open system such as River Bend. Deer are wary creatures and do not trap easily. Where trapping has been employed, a significant number of the deer die in transport or at the new, unfamiliar site. Besides, there are no natural areas in this part of the country that could take the deer anyway, as most areas are facing similar problems.

Q: What about hiring sharpshooters?

A: Such a plan would be prohibitively expensive, very labor intensive to manage, and extend the shooting activity over a much longer time period, possibly up to two months. Furthermore, the MN-DNR will not permit such an action at River Bend, where they feel that public hunting is a viable option.

Q: What other activities will River Bend undertake to help the nature center recover?

A: River Bend has been reforesting much of the land that was previously agricultural (along with restoring prairie and wetlands). Exotic weed control has also taken place, with significant 5-week buckthorn control projects taking place during the summers of 2005 and 2006. A reduction in deer numbers after River Bend’s previous hunts resulted in increased success in these other areas as well.


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