Now is no time for passing the buck.
The Office of the Duke Forest will be closing three divisions of the Duke Forest to public access for the sixth Annual Deer Herd Reduction Program. The program, an effort to reduce the excess white-tailed deer population in the Forest by bow and gun hunting, will begin Sept. 23 and will conclude on Dec. 13.
“This hunt is functional in purpose only,” Program Director Sara Childs said. “Overabundant white-tailed deer in the Forest are negatively impacting the natural regeneration process, which in turn affects habitat for other wildlife and the availability of high quality natural areas for teaching and research uses.”
The Durham, Korstian and Blackwood Divisions of the Forest will be closed to the public Monday through Friday. No hunting will occur in any of the divisions when they are open on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as Nov. 28 and 29.
The hunting program stems from a study conducted by the Office of the Duke Forest in 2005 that surveyed the number of deer. It determined that there was an overabundance of white-tailed deer in the Durham, Korstian and Blackwood Divisions. The excess of deer in this area has been shown to damage the plant diversity in the Forest.
“Deer eat herbs and stems of shrubs and young trees,” said Norman Christensen, research professor and founding dean of the Nicholas School. “We know from the study of permanent plots in the Forest that they have had a devastating impact on many plant species and altered the diversity of forest communities.”
Not only does the excess of deer impair many plant species in the Forest but it can also be a danger to the people who visit.
“High population numbers favor the spread of disease in the deer herd,” Christensen said. “Large numbers of deer present several problems besides the general nuisance of eating people’s shrubs. These [problems] include high numbers of road kill and the spread of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease.”
According to the Office of the Duke Forest website, the deer population in the Forest is down from 2010, but it is still higher than in 2011 and 2012.
The hunting is only accessible to two hunting groups selected by the Office of the Duke Forest. Childs declined to disclose the names of the groups.
“It is not open to the general public, but if Durham or Duke affiliated locals were members of these groups, they could potentially participate,” Childs said.
Joey Thompson, records chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, one of the groups allowed to hunt during the closed period, said members of his group have been through rigorous training before entering the Forest. He said the hunters do not shoot from more than 16 to 17 yards away and are appropriately certified.
“If anybody involved ever makes a questionable shot, they’re questioned,” Thompson said. “Everyone has had to put in a lot of work to be in this program. If somebody’s hunting with us, they know the intention of the hunt is to manage the deer herd.”
As a part of the program, hunters are required to record demographic information about the deer.
Thompson noted that the deer in the forest have seemed malnourished and are not reproducing as frequently as in past years. As a result of the efforts made to control the population, the deer that are left will have more resources to themselves, Thompson said.
“There are too many deer still, but they are getting healthier. The kidney health and weight of the deer have both benefitted,” he said. “During the first two years we didn’t find one that was over 110 [pounds], but last year we had one that was 175.”
Childs said that the program aims to reduce the deer population by 100 does by the end of the hunting season.
The Office of the Duke Forest asks students and faculty to contact the Office if they wish to use the closed areas of the Forest for research.