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City allows bow hunting in Bonnie View to cull deer population

BowHunting.jpg
Heeral Patel
/
The Columbia Missourian

Since September, bow hunters looking for deer have had access to the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary, thanks to the efforts of the Columbia Audubon Society.

The sanctuary joined eight other places within city limits where bow hunting is allowed until the season ends in January.

The Audubon Society, a local organization that seeks to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity, requested the addition of the sanctuary in a letter to Columbia Parks and Recreation last February. The organization argued that deer density is increasing and is causing considerable damage to the local flora and fauna.

The society operates a nature sanctuary of its own that is adjacent to Bonnie View and found that oak trees are browsed much more than less-liked plants like pawpaw and the white snake root.

“We’re getting very little oak regeneration because white oaks are kind of an ‘ice-cream plant’ for deer,” said Allison Vaughn, communications chair of the Audubon Society, referring to deers’ taste preference for oaks above other plants. “They seek those out and snip those buds off first in the spring.”

The survey also showed that certain species of shrubs deer prefer have undergone significant damage.

“For example, we saw a 90% browse on all redbud shrubs, which is a native shrub that should be here in this dry-mesic woodland,” Vaughn said. “But it’s just getting browsed to the point where it’s almost prostrate to the ground rather than being an erect shrub.”

The group is concerned about over-browsing not only for the inherent damage to flora, but also the effects it can cause to other animals in the ecosystem.

“Whenever the deer browse off all the plants the pollinators eat, then you lose pollinators,” she said. “Whenever you lose the plants that produce acorns, you lose your woodpeckers and your squirrels and your woodchucks and things like that. Whenever you don’t have any herbaceous cover, you lose a lot of cover for animals like foxes.”

This phenomenon is known as a trophic cascade, a series of indirect consequences caused by an increase or decrease in top predators. Bill Mees is in charge of managing Audubon’s nature areas, and he likens the ecosystem to a game of Jenga.

“The deer come along, and ‘oh, well, there’s an oak block, we’ll pull one out,’” he said. “‘And there’s all of those little wildflowers, we’ll pull that block out, and then we’ll pull this block out.’ And before you know it, the tower comes tumbling down. Because it’s all dependent on each other.”

The Audubon Society met very little resistance with their idea to add Bonnie View to the archery program. It was passed unanimously by the Parks and Recreation Commission and by the Columbia City Council.

Parks and Recreation has operated the deer management program since 2004. While the onus for considering Bonnie View’s inclusion into the program was ecological, the department’s primary goal with the program is reducing traffic incidents.

“You have some major traffic ways surrounding the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary, so the deer may travel onto those roadways,” said Parks and Recreation Director Gabe Huffington.

“We were able to work on one of our goals, which is to reduce the number of deer-to-vehicle collisions, but then we’re also able to help our neighbor, the Columbia Audubon Society, with issues they’re having in terms of restoration of their ecosystem and management of wildlife,” he said.

The city uses data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol to determine how many deer-related traffic incidents there have been in a given year. From 2003 to 2009, the annual average number of deer-related traffic incidents in Columbia was over 40. Since then, no year has seen more than 16.

To register for a permit, hunters must attend a class that covers the rules and regulations of hunting in Columbia, which the city hosts before hunting season starts. For example, hunting is still not allowed in the adjacent Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary.

The city doesn’t own the property, and Columbia Audubon doesn’t allow hunting because it is smaller than Bonnie View, and there is less space between hunting areas and pedestrian trails. In city hunting areas, hunters must leave a 100-foot buffer between them and any trails or residential properties.

“We spent some extra time in each one of those training sessions talking specifically about this property, because it was new,” Huffington said. “We wanted to make sure they knew the rules, regulations, boundaries and really hit on the fact we were going to have residential neighborhoods all the way around it.”

When a hunter kills a deer, they must register it with the city, allowing the city to track the number of deer hunted, as well as their sex and where they were killed.

“You can get a really good idea of your population at the county level or statewide level,” said Adam Doerhoff, conservation agent for Boone County.

“By having this data ... we can feel very confident that deer numbers will be at a level that is both overall healthy for humans, for the landscape and for the deer population, so we don’t have to worry about going way overboard with harvesting deer,” Doerhoff said.

Huffington said that going forward, Parks and Rec will continue to hear requests from stakeholders when considering a park’s inclusion into the hunting program. Making sure there are hunting areas in diverse locations around Columbia is also a priority.

“I can tell you the next property we will add will be in northeast Columbia,” he said. “One thing we discuss in every training session is if someone would have a request to add a property, or see a lot of deer in a location, that’s something they can always come and talk to us about, and then we can look at whether or not it’s a good fit for the program.”

Harshawn Ratanpal is a senior at the University of Missouri studying journalism and economics. He is the current Print-Audio Convergence Editor, or PACE, for the Missouri News Network focusing on homelessness coverage.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.