Once again, deer are overrunning Lake Elmo Regional Park Reserve, even as lower statewide deer numbers mean restricted hunting for a second consecutive year in Minnesota.
The Washington County park has a deer population four times greater than the land can sustain. Deer are overfeeding on vegetation and causing concern for collisions with cars, said Dan MacSwain, a county parks coordinator for natural resources.
A shotgun hunt will be held this fall — the sixth in 20 years — to remove as many as 80 deer from the 2,000-acre park. The park will be closed to the public the first and second weekends in November, when the hunt is scheduled.
In the northern portion of Washington County, which is more rural and more hunted, an estimated 16-21 deer can be found per square mile, said Scott Noland, an area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“I think it’s a healthy population at this point,” he said.
The deer population is greater in the southern portion of the county because more cities and townships have “discharge ordinances” that restrict shooting — and limit hunting, Noland said.
Coyotes, and collisions with vehicles, help to control deer populations across the county, he said.
Curt Finch of 4 Paws Road Kill, a deer carcass disposal company, said an average of 250-300 deer are hit and killed each year on county roads. His services are advertised on the website of West Lakeland Township, where in 2012 hunters estimated there were 30 deer per square mile.
“The trend has been fewer deer for the past few years. This year is up, I don’t know why,” Finch said.
Even as portions of Washington County become more urban, deer find refuge in parks and woods, and feed in farm fields and meadows. Some cities have become accustomed to counting deer and taking action when they become a nuisance.
One city seeing more deer is Mahtomedi, which counted 120 in an aerial survey in February. Deer numbers have increased fourfold since 2012, but City Administrator Scott Nielson said the deer are more concentrated on private land than in city parks. The City Council hasn’t discussed whether to let bow hunters reduce the numbers of deer.
However, Newport and Oakdale approved bow hunting this year to cull herds, and Marine on St. Croix has “open hunting” in the city during deer season. Deer have become so commonplace in Marine that they hardly cause a stir these days, said City Clerk Lynette Peterson.
“No more than usual,” she said. “Maybe we’re moving them out to the other cities, who knows?”
At Lake Elmo Regional Park Reserve, the county’s park staff conducts an annual winter aerial survey of deer in the park and within the adjoining city of Lake Elmo. The county determined that the current population exceeds the “carrying capacity” of the park, resulting in habitat and vegetation degradation and a higher risk for Lyme disease transmission.
The shotgun hunt planned for November, the first since 2013, will be managed through DNR permit applications.
Statewide, deer hunting will remain “conservative” this fall to allow herds to rebound from hard winters and overhunting in some areas of Minnesota. The approach is working, the DNR said, because more fawns are being seen throughout the state.
In 70 of this year’s 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer, the DNR said. Hunters now can apply to the lottery for antlerless deer permits. The deadline is Thursday, Sept. 10.