New city-wide deer research project to take place in Bemidji

Jun. 27—BEMIDJI — Wildlife biologist and Bemidji State professor Jacob Haus recently received $393,000 from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund to perform a city-wide deer research project.

According to Haus, several cities across Minnesota conduct special deer hunts within city limits, including the city of Bemidji, but the efficacy of these hunts is currently unknown. After his research proposal recently got approved for funding, he hopes to answer more unknown questions and find the most effective way to manage the deer population.

Because the overabundance of deer in urban areas can be a burden to its citizens with everything from vehicle collisions to landscape damage and the potential spread of diseases like Lyme disease and chronic wasting disease, Haus thinks his new project starting in January will provide the city with a better analysis of the deer population within the city.

"The deer are getting into people's backyards, the garden, eating at the bird feeders and that kind of thing," Haus said. "Because deer management practices such as a firearm hunt can't be safely conducted in urban areas, the deer populations can be difficult to manage."

The Bemidji City Council formed the Deer Management Committee in 2005 to operate the special archery hunt within three of the city districts. And since then, the hunt has removed almost 500 deer from within city limits.

Every fall,

Haus and his students take a drive around the city to conduct a spotlight survey

. While the university provides the results of the annual deer survey to the city to help with the archery hunt and control the deer population, it also allows students to get experience working in the field.

When their spotlights land on a deer, they record data such as how many deer there a are in a given spot, whether they are does or bucks and their approximate ages. Then, they take distance measurements from the road and use that information to calculate a deer density estimate.

"They come up with a population estimate for the year within the city every year and for the most part, the population is definitely not decreasing in some areas," Haus said. "So I started thinking, 'Is that because the hunts that we're doing aren't effective?' And the only real way to get at that is to put collars on deer and monitor what percentage of the population is being harvested every year."

His new project, though, has the goal to try and better understand the behavioral response and mortality data of deer during the city's archery hunt. Haus will start by live-capturing a total of 40 to 50 adult female deer within city limits and affixing them with global positioning system (GPS) collars.

"Because the annual mortality rate of adult females is one of the most influential drivers of deer population growth, deer abundance is best managed by adjusting their harvest rates," Haus said. "The collars will be programmed to record a GPS location fix on individual deer every 30 minutes from Aug. 1 to Jan. 31 to examine changes in deer behavior in response to the archery hunt along with population and survival rates."

Haus will be recording everything from vehicle collision rates to death from natural causes along with the mortality due to harvest in and outside of the city's limits.

"We will track the number of special hunt permits issued, hunter effort and spatial distribution of hunting pressure using both mandatory logs submitted by hunters at the end of the season and small GPS units with participating hunters to hopefully increase the efficacy of the hunt," he added.

As a wildlife biologist with a focus on white-tailed deer and spatial ecology, Haus has performed research on how animals utilize the landscape and how that impacts management. Such as what makes them vulnerable to hunting, predation and other components that alter their survival rates.

"I did a project very similar to this, however, it was in a rural area and that's where a lot of this research has been done already," Haus said. "Every state usually has multiple projects that are looking at deer habitat selection, but it's not done very often in urban settings and usually doesn't include the hunting aspect of it as well.

"So we're not just going to look at how deer move around in the city, but how they move in response to the archery hunters on the landscape."

According to his research proposal, conducting more research will uncover the best management practices for special city archery hunts and the guidelines established during this research can be implemented to improve harvest management of the special archery hunts throughout the state.

"I believe that with a better understanding of how we're using the landscape within the city and how the deer are responding to the hunters," he explained, "we can change how we manage the hunt and get a handle on the population just through archery hunting."