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After 20 years, deer hunts aid parks’ habitat

– The deer hunts that started 20 years ago amid protests at one of Indiana’s most popular state parks are a step that a state wildlife official says helped improve its ecosystem.

The December 1993 deer hunt at Brown County State Park near Nashville, about 40 miles south of Indianapolis, was met with protesters carrying signs saying “Kill Hunger, Not Deer” and “Hunting, Sport of Cowards.”

Brown County and 20 other state parks, including Chain O’Lakes and Pokagon in northeast Indiana, were closed Monday and today to the general public so the final two days of this year’s deer hunts can take place there.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources doesn’t get much criticism regarding the hunts nowadays, state parks natural resources chief Mike Mycroft told the Bloomington Herald-Times. Most complaints are from hunters who want more deer to hunt, he said.

“What people don’t realize is we aren’t managing deer with these reductions. We are managing deer impacts to the ecosystem,” Mycroft said. “We don’t care about the numbers (of deer). We care about the data that indicates habitat recovery.”

Hunters killed nearly 1,300 deer in 14 state parks last year, according to the DNR. Almost 30,000 deer have been killed since the state park hunts started in 1993.

Officials cited an overpopulation of deer that were malnourished despite clearing much of the vegetation from state park forests when deciding to start the hunts.

Mycroft remembers taking a hike in Brown County State Park in 1996 looking for all of the wildflower species he could find. But Mycroft could only find one, the wild comfrey, a weedlike species unpalatable to deer.

Driving by the park in 2006, Mycroft said he was surprised when he saw a yellow orchid. “In 10 years, we went from only being able to find weeds to being able to pick orchids,” he said.

Deer have been a concern in nearby Bloomington, with a deer task force recommending that the city employ both lethal and nonlethal means to control the urban deer population.

Keith Clay, an Indiana University biology professor and a member of the task force, said the ecosystem in Griffy Woods stands to gain from a reduction in deer.

“The state spent a long time carefully studying the issue before instituting the current policy, but apparently that is not good enough for Bloomington,” he said.