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Thinning the herd

Deer reduction to take place
at Clifty Falls Park

By Levi King
Staff Writer

(November 2005) – Clifty Falls State Park and Inn will close to the public Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 28-29 so the Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials and hunters can conduct a deer reduction.
Hunters were selected by lottery from an applicant pool last month, and no additional hunters will be admitted to this year’s reduction.
Participants must be Indiana residents age 18 or older and have a valid state hunting license. Since hunters are considered volunteers, there are no fees.
Dick Davis, the park’s naturalist, said 130 hunters were selected for each of the two-day hunts.
The same number was chosen last year, but only about 90 showed up each morning, which, according to Davis, is ideal.
“We’re putting hunters in the field in numbers that keep it safe for them and for park personnel,” Davis said.
While criticized by some, the hunts are conducted to maintain the park’s ecological balance.
Without natural predators, the deer herd increases until the environment cannot sustain it. Seventeen state parks now hold annual deer reductions, since the Indiana General Assembly passed a law in 1994 requiring a hunt when the population reaches levels that can damage the ecosystem.
The number killed during each hunt allows DNR biologists to estimate the deer population in the park, Davis said.
Previously, Davis and others collected data about the prevalence of certain plants and used this data to gauge the population. “Plant surveys require a lot of man hours, but the hunter success rate is just as accurate an index,” he said.
Each hunter is allowed to kill one antlered deer and up to two others. A deer is considered antlered if it has at least one antler of three inches or longer. Hunters must take their game to a check station so DNR officials can log the age, weight and sex. During Clifty’s first reduction, in 1998, 110 deer were taken. The number has steadily decreased, and last year hunters killed 37 animals in the hunt. “We will hunt until the deer biologists decide that we have the herd at the appropriate level,” Davis said.
According to Davis, “There are very few areas east of the Mississippi River that don’t have or don’t need a deer reduction program.”
When the deer population is not controlled, “what you have are automobiles taking the place of hunters,” he added.
Since the hunts began seven years ago, studies have shown favorable regrowth among plants that were reduced by deer. Jewel weed, or touch-me-not, which commonly grows along ditch lines, shallow ponds or other moist areas, almost vanished from the park, Davis said. Now the plant is making a comeback.

• For more information on the deer reductions, visit: www.dnr.in.gov.

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