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Indiana controlled hunts make inroads on habitat recovery

From Indiana Department of Natural Resources

-- Controlled deer hunts at Indiana 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 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, the 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 over-browsing. 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 0.27óthe 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 natural resources parks and reservoirs chief.

"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 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 online at http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/files/sp-DeerRMRR.pdf.

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

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