Indiana Park Hunts Make Inroads on Habitat Recovery

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Controlled deer hunts at state park properties are achieving the intended result of habitat recovery, but analysis of information collected this year indicates deer numbers remain above desired levels at many locations.

Volunteer hunters harvested 1,546 deer during four days of controlled hunts at 21 state parks in November. That’s only the 10th highest total in 18 years of state park hunts, but resource biologists say harvest numbers alone have limited value in determining success.

Instead, their research shows a better indicator is harvest-to-hunter effort (H/E). When the H/E ratio nears .22 to .20, vegetation and habitat begin to recover from deer overbrowsing. Another reliable target is a harvest of 12 to 16 deer per square mile.  

The mean H/E ratio for all participating parks this year was 0.27—the second most successful on record. Seventeen parks experienced H/E ratios above target levels, and most parks also were above the harvest per square mile target.

“Although some parks are more successful than others at achieving a maintenance phase, data continue to indicate habitat recovery as well as sustained deer populations,” said Mike Mycroft, chief of natural resources for the DNR Division of State Parks & Reservoirs.

“It’s worth reiterating that park reductions are not intended to manage deer populations for optimal recreational hunting,” he said. “The goal is to reduce the impact of browsing to a level that allows some of Indiana’s rarest and most unique natural communities to thrive.”

Mycroft noted that although abrupt browse lines and emaciated deer are a thing of the past at state parks, less obvious damage persists throughout the park system, and deer continue to impact rare and endangered flora, as well as valuable habitat such as oak forests.

Mycroft’s full report on the 2011 controlled hunts is available at StateParks.IN.gov. Look for the 2011 Deer Reduction Report link below the photographs.

The first two-day hunt was Nov. 14-15, and the second was Nov. 28-29. State parks included were Brown County, Chain O’Lakes, Charlestown, Clifty Falls, Fort Harrison, Harmonie, Indiana Dunes, Lincoln, McCormick’s Creek, Ouabache, Pokagon, Potato Creek, Prophetstown, Shades, Shakamak, Spring Mill, Summit Lake, Tippecanoe, Turkey Run, Versailles, and Whitewater Memorial. Cave River Valley, a satellite site at Spring Mill, also was included.

Weather was marginal statewide for both sessions. Temperatures were warm on the first two-day session with high winds, rain and thunderstorms scattered across much of the state. Second-round weather was cooler with gusty winds and a mix of rain and snow.

Another influencing factor was no-shows, meaning hunters who were drawn for participation but did not participate at all, or participated only one day. Just over 6,000 hunters were selected in the initial draw. Standby drawings were conducted at four parks on a trial basis to fill spots left vacant by originally drawn hunters. The standby drawings reduced what would have been a combined 59 percent four-day average of no-shows at those four parks to 49 percent.

Parks requiring reductions in 2012 will be listed and made available along with online applications in July 2012 at dnr.IN.gov/fishwild/5834.htm.