From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
-- In an effort to allow the deer population to rebound if conditions improve, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved implementing new deer harvest rules in two areas of the Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area in South Florida.
The rules will affect the upcoming 2011-2012 hunting season for zones 3 and 4 of the Stairsteps Unit. No deer may be harvested from Zone 4. Deer hunting will be allowed in Zone 3, but with a reduced bag limit from two to one deer per season, and all deer harvested from Zone 3 must have a forked antler. The order does not affect zones 1 and 2, where deer hunting will continue under current regulations.
Data collected from annual surveys reflects a dramatic decline in the deer population this past decade. An average of three deer were counted in surveys conducted in Zone 4 this year, the southernmost and wettest zone.
Last year, an average of seven deer were observed. The previous year, 18 deer were observed there. Surveys were not conducted in 2008 because of a lack of funds. In 2007, 123 deer were counted. The highest count since the surveys began in 1995 was in 2002, with 523 deer.
A joint task force found the number and duration of high-water events in the Stairsteps Unit have increased significantly since 1995. Biologists believe survival of fawns and adult females has been decreased by high-water events, habitat changes and predation. If the trends in these conditions reverse, deer populations would likely rebound.
Access to all areas will remain open, subject to National Park Service regulations, and all other hunting will be allowed.
FWC and NPS will continue to monitor the deer population in the Stairsteps Unit. Hunters are encouraged to bring in whole deer harvested from the area to the check station so they may be examined. Hunters may call the Naples Field office at (239)417-6352 for directions and information on check stations.