Reducing Car Crashes One Reason to Thin Deer Herd in Indiana

One in 140 drivers in Indiana is likely to a hit a deer this year.

That’s the statistic the State Farm insurance agency formulated last year when it studied the number of deer-vehicle collisions across the country.

It’s also one of many statistics used by members of the state’s Natural Resources Commission, along with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, as a reason to restructure the state’s deer hunting seasons to kill more deer.

The goal, said state deer biologist Chad Stewart, is to reduce the number of conflicts – collisions, crop damage, overpopulation in urbanized areas – between people and deer.

Stewart said the state’s deer population has been steadily increasing for more than a decade, even as hunters kill more deer every year.

In February, the DNR reported that Indiana’s 2010 hunters harvested 134,004 deer, a new state record. Ten years earlier, the state’s hunters harvested 98,725 deer, an increase of more than 35,000 deer.

But all that growth has led to increased conflicts with people in the state and to concerns that the herd has been growing out of control.

Last year, the state’s Natural Resources Commission – made up of appointed citizens and three state agency directors – proposed changing the state’s hunting seasons to combat the problem, primarily by changing the traditional hunting season structure.

The goal, Stewart said, was to encourage people to shoot more deer and to also shoot more deer earlier in the fall, before their breeding season, when the majority of deer-vehicle crashes occur.

Opposition to that plan, primarily from hunters who didn’t want the traditional hunting seasons changed, led the commission to cancel that plan.

In January, the commission released a new plan but this time added an additional doe hunting season at the end of December and proposed legalizing crossbows to be used during the state’s archery season.

Stewart said the extended seasons are designed to give hunters opportunity to kill more deer. The addition of crossbows – the medieval device that shoots an arrow but is handled more similarly to a gun – is aimed at recruiting more hunters during the archery season, because the weapons are thought to be easier to use than traditional bows and arrows.

But those proposals also are likely to face opposition, both by the hunters who are opposed to the new seasons and weapons, and by people opposed to reducing the state’s deer population.

Don Mulligan, an outdoors columnist whose work is featured in several Indiana newspapers and on, is one person leading a petition campaign that basically asks the state to leave its deer hunting regulations alone.

“I don’t believe that we have too many deer,” said Mulligan, who lives in central Indiana. “I’m not seeing that when I’m out in the woods, and no hunters I’ve talked to have told me that.”

Mulligan said he believes political pressure from the state’s agricultural industry is behind the move to reduce the state’s deer population. He said doing so robs hunters of the opportunity to enjoy their sport and animal lovers the opportunity to watch deer in the wild.

Together with a group of hunters and wildlife lovers, Mulligan is encouraging people opposed to the proposed regulations to petition the state to leave the current hunting rules as they are. The group, Protect Indiana Outdoors Sports, has created a website where petitions can be downloaded and sent to the Natural Resources Commission.

“The NRC is broken,” Mulligan said. “The way they’ve handled this, the personal agendas that have gone into this, it’s not the best thing for the people in this state, and not the best thing for the deer.”

Instead, Mulligan said more hunters and non-hunters need to be involved in the process of deciding the future of the state’s deer herd.

“If people are concerned about this, then they need to get involved,” Mulligan said. “I think (the NRC) is wrong, but if no one agrees, then that’s OK, too.”

Ultimately, it’s unknown whether any of the proposed changes to the deer hunting seasons or regulations would actually work.

Stewart said another major issue to be addressed is finding ways for hunters to be in areas where deer are – a problem especially in northern Indiana, where almost all of the land is privately owned.

“It’s not an easy problem to solve,” Stewart said. “It’s going to take some time.”

Unless, like Mulligan, you don’t believe there’s any problem at all.

Information from: South Bend Tribune