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Five Iowa City parks will close early as sharpshooters start next phase of deer cull

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A deer wanders through Macbride State Park. Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Five Iowa City parks, the Ned Ashton House and Oakland Cemetery will be closing early almost every day from Sunday, Feb. 23, through Sunday, March 15, as the second phase of Iowa City’s deer cull gets underway. As with the first phase in December, sharpshooters will kill deer in the designated area, as part of the deer management program unanimously approved by the Iowa City Council in August.

  • Waterworks Prairie Park, 2875 N Dubuque St
  • Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park and Peninsula Disc Golf Course, West end of Foster Rd
  • Crandic Park, 99 Rocky Shore Dr
  • The Ned Ashton House, 820 Park Rd
  • Terrell Mill Park, 1209 N Dubuque St
  • Hickory Hill Park, 800 Conklin St, 1439 Bloomington St, and the intersection of First Ave and Stuart Ct
  • Oakland Cemetery, 1000 Brown St

All of the locations will be closed to the public from 3 p.m until dawn during the deer cull, except for Thornberry Off-leash Dog Park and Peninsula Disc Golf Course, which will be closed from dusk until dawn each day.

The sharp shooting will again be conducted by wildlife biologists from White Buffalo, Inc. The Connecticut-based nonprofit describes its work as supporting and conducting “scientific research and educational efforts to improve the understanding of natural resources for the purpose of conservation,” according to its website. “Our approach is unique, in that we generate funding for conservation research by providing management alternatives in non-traditional settings.”

A study by White Buffalo estimated the density of Iowa City’s deer population at 57.5 deer per mile. The goal for the management program is to reduce that to 25 deer per mile.

Prior to August, the city had not had a deer management program for a decade. During that time, the deer population grew substantially.

In May 2018, the city asked the Iowa Natural Resources Commission (NRC) for permission to use sharp shooters during the winter of 2018-19 to thin out deer. The city also wanted permission to possibly sterilize deer as a population control measure.

The city needed the NRC’s permission because, under state law, all deer in Iowa are considered state property.

The NRC rejected this request by a vote of 6-1. (The seven members of the commission are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate.) Members of the NRC told the city’s representatives that Iowa City should come up with a long-term deer management plan.

Iowa City submitted a five-year plan involving sharp shooters, which the NRC rejected at its December 2018 meeting. The current members of the NRC favor bow-hunting, rather than sharp shooting, as a deer-culling method. It was made clear to the city that any five-year plan would have to have one year of sharp shooting, followed by four years of bow-hunting, to be approved by the NRC.

The city council’s decision to adopt a deer management plan utilizing sharpshooting and bow-hunting has been criticized by groups such as Iowa City Deer Friends.

The bodies of culled deer will be tested for chronic wasting disease. If the carcass is disease-free, its meat will be donated to local food banks.

In addition to sharp shooting, the city is also using nonlethal deer management tactics, including easing restrictions on residential fencing and promoting deer-resistant landscaping.

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