It was unanimous. Every person who expressed an opinion about the deer hunts planned for Fort Yargo State Park were in favor of the deer population being reduced.
Approximately 75 people showed up at the DNR public meeting on the proposed hunting regulations April 20 at Fort Yargo State Park, and the pending hunts were the No. 1 topic.
“We have been needing to do this for a long time,” said Park Manager Eric Bentley. “We have way too many deer.”
The proposed regulations for the 2006-07 hunting season include plans for two, two-day quota deer hunts on the park on November 29-30, 2006 and January 3-4, 2007.
WRD biologist Kevin Lowrey cited the documentation of severe overbrowsing on the park by deer.
“The plants you would expect to find in this part of the Piedmont simply are not here,” he said. “There is not much herbaceous vegetation below 3 1/2 feet in the park. All the preferred browse is gone, and there is chronic overbrowsing of non-preferred browse, an indication of an overpopulation of deer.”
Lowrey noted a severe browse line on Chinese privet, a non-preferred browse, and he said the red cedars on the park were also being eaten by deer.
Game Management spotlight counts of deer on the 1,814-acre park indicate a population of between 81 and 89 deer per square mile, when 25 to 30 deer per square mile would be optimum, Lowery said.
LeAnn Akin of Winder, a Fort Yargo Friends of the Park member, commented to park and WRD officials.
“On Arbor Day we do a lot of planting on the park,” she said. “A lot of the shrubs we planted are no longer with us. The deer have made a lot of difference in the ecosystem.”
Harry Hauck of Hoschton, a volunteer at the park, told officials that he had noticed an increase in the number of deer on the park.
“We have planted decorative plants that the deer have devastated,” he said. “I hate to see it go to hunting, but I see no alternative. We have really got to deal with the problem.”
Carley Caol of Winder stated that the deer are impacting a wide area.
“They are not only destroying the park, they are affecting the surrounding area. If you plant azaleas, the deer think they are dessert.”
Caol mentioned that there had been two recent deer/car collisions on Hwy 11.
Nancy Aloia of Winder said she lives on property adjacent to the park and has two deer feeders.
“This morning there were 14 deer at the feeders,” she said. “I know we need to (reduce the population), but I wish we could do it with bows and arrows.”
Parks and WRD officials stressed the emphasis that will be put on safety during the hunts, noting a mandatory safety meeting prior to the hunt and well-marked safety zones to protect adjacent development.
A quota of 65 hunters will be drawn for each of the two quota hunts. The parks hunt will be included in WRD’s WMA quota-hunt application process. See page 74 for details on the new online application process.
Hunters who are selected will be required to pay a $25 fee plus $3 for a park pass.
The park will be closed during the two-day hunts, but the campground and cabins will be available for hunters to rent.
According to Eric Bentley, hunters will be assigned a specific hunt area, although they will be allowed to switch areas during the hunt if they desire.
Each hunter will be required to kill one doe before killing an antlered buck.
“The purpose of the hunt is to reduce the herd,” said Parks Resource Preservation Program Manager Chuck Gregory. “We look to hunters to help us manage the herd — it is an important cooperative effort — and the way to control the population is to take does.”
There will be no limit to the number of deer a hunter may take, and deer killed on the park will not apply to the hunter’s state-season limit.
The Hunters for the Hungry program is expected to be on site to collect donated deer.
You can expect high numbers of hunters to apply. More than 5,000 hunters applied for last season’s hunts at Hard Labor Creek State Park, where the hunter-success rate for the first hunt was 106 percent.