Practical Issues > Hunting / Fishing > Hunting - Index
Hunting isn't best way to limit deer

DNR could use nonlethal means to cut down the size of the herd in Minnesota.

Howard Goldman
December 06, 2006


In his Nov. 12 column, "A hunt for hunters," Dennis Anderson claims that the only way to control the excessive number of deer in Minnesota is to increase the number of hunters. I would like to explain the nonhunters' view of this problem and possible solutions to deer overpopulation.

Overpopulation of deer is no accident. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the deer herd to produce a surplus for hunters. Habitat is manipulated to increase food supply for deer. Further, bag limits are set to induce a biological phenomenon known as "rebound" where deer birth rates increase in response to a sudden drop in the hunted population. Changes in management by the DNR would help address this man-made problem.

If reducing the deer population were the primary concern, the DNR would publicly commit to the concept of immunocontraception or birth control, as well as publicly finance pilot programs around the state. On the contrary, the DNR adamantly opposes the concept because fewer deer would be "harvestable" for hunters if populations declined. Contrary to what Anderson stated, there have been several promising experiments with birth control for deer. Further, although hunting is prohibited in national parks, their deer population is not out of control. Natural factors such as predators and disease are controlling the deer population.

Deer-car collisions can be greatly reduced by the use of a reflector system. These reflectors have been used very successfully in nine states, including Minnesota. Collisions have been reduced by 90 percent in most instances. Deer damage to vegetation can be prevented by the use of commercial products that repel deer as well as fencing options, scare devices and deer-resistant plants.

The fact is that the decline in the hunting tradition is largely attributable to urbanization and profound changes in attitude toward killing wildlife. A nationwide survey of youth 13 to 20 years old found that only 15 percent were very interested in hunting; 52 percent stated they had no interest in hunting. Many said they don't like killing animals for sport or recreation. The humane education movement deserves much of the credit for this. These changing attitudes were also reflected in the national statistics regarding wildlife activities. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are more than five times as many people watching wildlife rather than hunting it -- 66 million vs. 13 million.

The new reality of the 21st century is that deer hunting is less popular and the number of deer hunters will continue to decline. The DNR has nonlethal means, as noted above, to manage the deer population without reliance on sport hunting.

Howard Goldman, of St. Paul, is a board member of the Minnesota Humane Society.


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