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Expert Weighs In on Indiana's Deer Dilemma

PHOTO: Indiana's deer population is growing, and with it come concerns about overgrazing forests and increased risk of car-deer collisions on the roadways. Experts say it will take compromise and a coordinated effort to find the best solution. Photo credit: Matt Miller, The Nature Conservancy.
PHOTO: Indiana's deer population is growing, and with it come concerns about overgrazing forests and increased risk of car-deer collisions on the roadways. Experts say it will take compromise and a coordinated effort to find the best solution. Photo credit: Matt Miller, The Nature Conservancy.
December 10, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - Many Hoosiers consider deer to be majestic creatures in nature, but some conservationists are voicing concerns about the dangers of deer overpopulation. At the turn of the 20th century, there were actually no deer in Indiana, but by the 1980s, expansion efforts had been successful and deer sightings today are common.

According to the Southern Indiana program director for the Nature Conservancy, Allen Pursell, the issue now is that feeding all those deer is affecting the ecosystem, and their browsing can be destructive.

"They are a natural part of the ecosystem and they belong out in our forests, and it was a great thing to see them return," he declared. "But like a lot of things, having too much is a bad thing, and we're getting to the place where there are so many deer now that they exceed the carrying capacity of our forests."

Pursell said people have very strong feelings on the subject: they either want more game animals to hunt, or consider it cruel to kill deer. He added that, in many areas of the country, deer have changed the composition and structure of forests by overgrazing them.

There is no easy answer, but Pursell said all sides in the deer population debate will have to compromise to find the best solution.

He pointed out that the overpopulation is also affecting suburbia, where the interaction between deer and people becomes much closer and personal, and can affect public safety when the animals get onto the roads.

"One estimate is that in Indiana there were about 30,000 of these deer-car accidents every year, and each one of those accidents will cost, to repair, somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000. And that's big money."

With the loss of wolves and mountain lions in the region, the deer lack natural predators, which Pursell said leaves it up to humans to control the population. And while there are more humane options, he said, the hard reality is that hunting is the most effective.

"Many people have looked for other solutions, birth control and other means of doing things, but either they're not biologically effective or they're not economically effective," he said. "And so, hunting is really to be at this point in time the key to managing the deer population."

Indiana is among states that have changed policies to stabilize or reduce the number of deer, and enacted the first modern firearms season targeting female deer in the state's history.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN