Six Iowa City parks to close early in December as sharp shooters cull deer

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

Six Iowa City parks, the Ned Ashton House and Oakland Cemetery will be closing early almost every day in December, so sharp shooters can target deer without endangering the public, the Iowa City Police Department announced on Tuesday.

From Dec. 1-22, these selected city properties will be close each day at 3 p.m. and remain closed until dawn.

  • Waterworks Prairie Park, 2875 N Dubuque St
  • Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park and Peninsula Disc Golf Course, West end of Foster Rd
  • City Park, 200 Park Rd
  • 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
  • Terry Trueblood Recreation Area (including Sand Lake Trail), 579 McCollister Blvd
  • Oakland Cemetery, 1000 Brown St

The use of sharp shooters to cull the city’s deer population is part of the five-year deer management plan the city council unanimously approved in August.

It’s the city’s first deer management program in a decade, and is intended to reduce the number of deer within city limits by more than half.

A 2018 study by White Buffalo, Inc., the nonprofit the city hired to plan and implement the management program, 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.

From 2000 until 2010, the city used limited winter-time culls by sharp shooters to limit the deer population. The program was successful well enough that deer-related problems — such as homeowner complaints about deer damaging trees and other property, as well as deer-related car accidents — dropped to levels that prompted the city to discontinue the annual deer culls.

In the years since, the deer population has grown 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 plan the city council adopted in August was designed to meet the specifications required by the NRC. But the inclusion of four years of bow-hunting has been controversial, and denounced as inhumane by many people, including members of Iowa City Deer Friends.

The sharp shooting in December will 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.”

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.

The city has put up new “deer crossing” signs on Scott Boulevard and First Avenue, where an increase in deer activity is expected once the sharp shooting begins.

The deer management plan also calls for the city to reduce speed limits in areas of high deer activity.

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