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Thinning the herd is humane, not harvest

5/31/2006

Several weeks ago a proposed plan by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, designed to thin a herd of deer at the state's Oak Mountain State Park just south of Birmingham, began to take shape.

Last night, the state concluded the two-day bowhunting harvest that would, it was hoped, thin a highly overpopulated deer population. The deer in Oak Mountain Park had moved from being attractive wild animals to the category of downright nuisance

This year, encounters with the increasing bold whitetails compelled state wildlife officials to consider some method of limiting the size of the park's population. If not, it would only be a matter of time before someone was seriously hurt in a collision — or worse, a confrontation between the deer and park-goers. Like the famous "mugging squirrels" in New York City's Central Park, the Oak Mountain deer had long since lost their fear of humans.

The state's solution? A lottery for invitations to bow hunt under very strict regulations. And the neighbors weren't pleased. Of course, no one wants to risk being the recipient of a broadhead on their deck while admiring the beautiful scenery in and adjacent to what is a very attractive chunk of landscape. But select they did.

Seventy archers, chosen for their skill and hunting acumen, were allowed into Oak Mountain Park starting yesterday. Their goal was simple: to harvest as many as 150 deer by the close of hunting last evening. At that point, the two-day hunt was over and state wildlife officials would then evaluate the hunt.

Having been a regular visitor to this fine Alabama park, it's no wonder that the deer finally had to be declared pests. Large areas in and around Oak Mountain have literally been stripped of vegetation. And the collisions between vehicles and deer had not become common, but bordered on epidemic. On many occasions, golfers in the park had to literally shoo the deer off the tee boxes and greens in order to hit their shots. Some have even "taken their best shots" at deer that simply refused to move.

The number targeted for harvest, according to Barnett Lawley, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources constituted "...a drop in the bucket compared to what the overpopulation is."

"But," Lawley adds, "it's a start."

There were the usual handful of anti-hunting demonstrators outside the main entrance to the 10,000 acre park yesterday and again this morning, but no incidents were reported.

Personally, I find it a shame these protesters weren't allowed to get up-close-and-personal with the deer harvested over the past 48 hours. If they had, they might have found themselves grudgingly agreeing with the premise of the hunt: strengthening the overall whitetail herd in the park. The experienced hunters expressed shock at the small size and generally malnourished appearance of these protected animals. One hunter, Wayne Harrell, summed it up: "there's just nothing for them to eat."

That was the real reason the wildlife officials felt it necessary to reduce the herd - even with what appears to be a high rate of 150 animals in only two days. The deer population has absolutely outgrown the park's food supply. And with that unchecked growth, bucks in the 8-point range, normally expected to run in the 180-200-plus-pound range are weighing in at anemic levels well below the sizes attained by deer not afforded the sheltered existence of these state park pets. Consequently, the deer at Oak Mountain State Park are generally malnourished, undersized, and highly likely candidates for disease and early deaths.

The protesters weren't really out there at the appropriate time — if they really cared about the deer, they would have been out there earlier — protesting for a humane harvest. Another meaningless gesture from people who claim to care about the environment, but have no idea what it means to be a steward of the environment.

This aritlce was reprinted with the permission of The Outdoor Wire.