Session yields strong opinions on white-tail deer damage

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DELLROY, Ohio – “We’d like to grow some corn to feed our livestock, but the deer won’t let us,” said one farmer.
“I don’t have any problem with deer. I shoot ’em,” growled another.
The crowd practically broke into applause. These were their thoughts, these were their problems, and somebody was finally listening.
More than two dozen farmers, landowners and sportsmen from four counties gathered May 30 to vent frustrations with ruined crops and maimed livestock to Keith Stimpert, vice president of governmental affairs for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
The listening session was part of the Farm Bureau’s fact-finding as it plans a summer wildlife conference. Participant input there will help shape policy development and, eventually, state legislation, Stimpert said.
Again. Wildlife control and damage has been on the Farm Bureau’s radar for several years. But like a swinging pendulum, the issue seemed to have faded. That is, until recently, Stimpert said.
The Farm Bureau’s county and state offices are fielding an increasing number of complaints and phone calls about deer, turkeys, black vultures and other nuisances. Time spent tackling the issue is coming to a head again.
“It’s not enough to say wildlife is a problem anymore,” Stimpert said.
“It’s critical we get past the surface level and get into the details that will really let us work at solutions,” he said.
The listening session was a forum to hear from those most affected and afflicted.
Example. In Jefferson County, Sherry Finney’s family is nearly ready to give up crop farming.
Their 1996 corn crop yielded 96 bushels an acre. In 2005, they got just 17 bushels an acre. Their problem? Seemingly overnight, browsing deer stole their crop.
The Finneys aren’t in a position to turn away any hunter who’s willing to shoot, and they don’t. In fact, Finney said more than 120 deer have been taken from their 100-acre farm in the past three years.
“We used every in- and out-of-season tag we could get our hands on. But then [the state] won’t give you those permits until they assess the [deer] damage, and that takes forever,” she said.
Moving ahead. The problem is real: According to state Division of Wildlife statistics, crop damage complaints filed in 2004 were up almost 50 percent from the year before, and the numbers keep growing.
Part of the dialogue between the Farm Bureau and the Division of Wildlife is an attempt to get a better grip on the real number of deer in Ohio.
“Saying that there’s just too many isn’t effective,” Stimpert said, relaying that some reports peg the state white-tail population at 600,000, some at 800,000, and some say more than 1 million.
The state Division of Wildlife estimates the 2005 population around 600,000.
State data says more than 209,000 deer were harvested during the 2005-2006 hunting season.
The top five counties for total harvest? Coshocton, Muskingum, Tuscarawas, Guernsey, and Knox. Not far behind were Harrison and Jefferson counties, each with more than 5,000 deer taken.
“In western Ohio they say there are about four deer per square mile. Here in the deer capital of Ohio, how many would you guess? Forty or 50 per square mile?” Stimpert questioned.
His rhetoric drew groans and laughter from the audience. The stories started again.
Car season? Harrison County farmer John Jones said this might be the last year he and wife Pauline plant corn on the family farm.
“Between the deer, geese, coons, bears, beavers and everything else, how are you supposed to [farm]?” he said.
And Jones feels he’s smack dab in the middle of deer country, with no relief in sight.
“From my place to Cadiz, 10 or 12 miles, it’s nothing to see 100 deer a night on the road. That’s how many you can see; how many do you not see in the brush?”
He feels a major roadblock to hunters keeping populations down is the increased cost of hunting licenses and tags.
“A turkey is a turkey, a deer is a deer. But they’re telling me my spring [hunting] tag isn’t valid in the fall on the exact same animal? Who can afford to buy all the tags and permits?” Jones asked.
Issues. Attendees recommended the Farm Bureau work with the state to get hunting license fees reduced, increase the number of young hunters, and urge the state to better maintain public hunting properties.
Other possibilities were restructuring the tagging process to allow more deer to be claimed per tag, or imposing rules that would require a hunter to shoot a doe before he or she could take a trophy buck.
For more information on the Farm Bureau’s planned wildlife conference, call your county Farm Bureau office.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419 or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009.

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