Griffy Lake Nature Preserve will close the next two weekends for regulated deer hunts intended to protect the area’s ecosystem.
The hunt began Nov. 16-17 and will continue Nov. 23-24 and Nov. 30-Dec.1. City officials determined a regulated deer hunt, overseen by a coordinator hired with a $25,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, is the best way to address the overpopulation of deer harming Griffy Lake’s plant and animal life.
“The goal of the program is to reduce deer browse pressure to the point where the plant community can recover and reproduce,” said Steve Cotter, natural resources manager for the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department.
The question of how to solve deer overpopulation has caused controversy in Bloomington over the past decade. No one knows how many deer are at Griffy Lake, nor how many need to be killed to return the ecosystem to a healthy level.
“We have been told that healthy forests in this part of the country should be able to support about 15 deer per square mile,” Cotter said. “We’ve also been told that in order for the plant community to recover, we should try to keep it down to five deer per square mile. Griffy is about two square miles.”
A sharpshooter the city hired in 2017 from White Buffalo Inc., a nonprofit deer management organization, killed 62 deer — more than twice as many as Cotter said a healthy ecosystem could support.
In 2018, the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department asked city council to approve the use of firearms by licensed hunters at Griffy Lake so it could use a grant from DNR’s Community Hunting Access Program to organize a hunt. This program is designed to help communities in Indiana hire hunt coordinators to manage local deer populations.
“It’s a very new approach to trying to solve some of the suburban deer issues,” Bloomington CHAP hunt coordinator Ryan Rodst said.
When the city council approved the ordinance in September 2018, it was too late to recruit enough hunters. The Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department postponed the hunt to 2019 the week before it was scheduled.
Rodst said this year he started recruiting hunters in late spring. Of 350-400 direct solicitations to hunters, about 60 people submitted applications.
Those applicants were screened, then tested at a gun range near New Salisbury, Indiana, Cotter said. Each licensed hunter had to hit three shots within two inches of a bullseye at 50 yards.
The 27 selected hunters can choose to keep the deer they kill or donate them to Hoosier Hills Food Bank.
Hunters killed 22 deer during the first weekend, Cotter said. This is twice as many deer as Cotter said should be in the entire preserve. Hunters said they saw additional deer they weren’t able to shoot.
Cotter said his one regret about the program is closing the park to the public.
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