Griffy Lake has a deer problem.
White-tailed deer have overpopulated the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve for years, damaging forest ecology by feeding on plants. City officials say a hunt is the best solution.
The Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department first requested an ordinance change for sharpshooting at Griffy Lake in 2014, to great resistance from the community. Two attempted culls later, it is now proposing an amendment that would allow local hunters to participate in a regulated hunt over three weekends in November and December.
A cull will proceed regardless of the council’s vote Wednesday evening.
Researchers and city officials have never been able to quantify the total deer population at the preserve, preventing them from setting a target for the hunts.
The first cull in 2014 was completely unsuccessful — not one deer was killed. In the second cull December 2017, the sharpshooter killed 62.
“They didn’t get all of them, we know that,” said Steve Cotter, natural resource manager for the city.
The 2017 sharpshooter cost the city approximately $43,500.
Drawing on local hunters would enable the city to receive a $32,500 reimbursement from the Community Hunting Access Program through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The city would need to contribute an additional $15,000 for the hunt.
The CHAP program’s goals are twofold. Financial assistance helps under-resourced communities manage their deer populations, offering more recreational hunting in the process. The grant for Bloomington would fund a CHAP coordinator to manage hunts for the next two years.
“There is a great recreational need for hunting opportunities during the regulated hunting season,” said Sam Whiteleather of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife. “The CHAP program is part of our efforts to address that need that Indiana citizens have.”
The first time the city hired a sharpshooter, Cotter said there were some complaints that local hunters were willing to do it instead.
“A lot of people are more comfortable with local hunters doing the job, rather than hiring somebody from a company headquartered out of state,” Cotter said.
Anyone with a license to hunt deer in Indiana is eligible to participate in a CHAP hunt, Cotter said, but he expects most hunters to be from the area. The city would hire White Buffalo Inc. — the same company responsible for the previous two sharpshooting episodes — to recruit and screen hunters.
Prospective hunters would need to pass a proficiency test evaluating their accuracy with firearms, along with a written test or interview. A private security firm would patrol the area during the hunt, according to a letter to city council from Kathleen Mills, president of the Board of Park Commissioners.
The hunters would either keep the deer or donate the meat to Hoosier Hills Food Bank, to whom all deer from the previous hunt were given.
At a city council meeting Sept. 12, Cotter said other means of removing the deer have been deemed unfeasible. Capturing and removing the deer tends to provoke stress, and it was determined more humane to kill them.
Cotter already plans to organize another hunt in 2019 to combat a population expected to continue reproducing.
“Deer are an important part of the preserve,” Cotter said. “We want them there, but in an appropriate number that allows the other species to survive as well.”
About 15 to 16 deer per square mile is thought to be sustainable in a healthy system, Cotter said. But for a plant community that’s been subject to too many herbivores for as long as the Griffy ecosystem has been, 10 to 11 deer for the nearly two square mile preserve is now the goal.
Studies by IU researchers and the Joint City of Bloomington-Monroe County Deer Task Force support the call for deer removal.
Scientist Angela Shelton conducted a study in 2010 in which she paired 15 fenced exclosures with control plots at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve. The only difference between the two plots is that large herbivores were kept out of the exclosures, said Sarah Mincey, administrative director for the Research and Teaching Preserve.
“The herbivores here are the white-tailed deer,” Mincey said.
The fenced plots had taller herbaceous plants, more flowers and more woody plants over time than the adjacent outside area. Since these plants comprise the bottom of the food chain, Mincey said, decreased vegetation leads to fewer sources of energy for other plants and animals.
In a preliminary vote last week, six council members favored the change, one opposed and one abstained.
If the council rejects the proposal Wednesday evening, Cotter said the department will apply for another sharpshooter. The hunt will go on.
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