The new year was only 3 days old when the call came in to Fort Wayne police dispatchers: “deer down.”
And the next day: “deer needs put down.” And the day after that: “Cadillac Deville vs deer.”
Of course, those dispatcher log notes are no different from past years in a continuation of people-deer conflicts that have become all too common in a state that had no white-tailed deer three generations ago.
And the conflicts are not only with deer.
Coyotes, wild pigs, turkeys. Even alligators. Communities nationwide are grappling with how to deal with nuisance wildlife.
Coyotes have made inroads, with attacks on pets increasing around Indianapolis, according to news reports. Wild pigs are on the move in southern Indiana, where a mountain lion sighting near Bloomfield was confirmed in 2010.
Warsaw started a deer task force a few years ago and opened parts of the city to urban bow hunting, which Fort Wayne also did. Bloomington, however, has yet to address its deer problem after spending two years studying the issue.
Controlling wildlife is a delicate matter. Yet, humans have intruded on animal habitats, killed their natural predators, and welcomed critters into their yards.
As state DNR biologist Steve Backs half-joked using the ever-present fox squirrel as an example, if you’re carrying feed in 5-gallon buckets, “you’ve probably got a problem.”
With deer, reintroduction efforts begun in the 1930s were so successful that the U.S. deer population is estimated today at more than 30 million, according to some news reports.
While Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources does not estimate the state’s deer population, Chad Stewart, a DNR biologist, said it is the largest since pre-colonial times.
Last month, Time magazine wrote that the populations of deer, beavers, raccoons, wild pigs, black bears and Canada geese, among others, have exploded since the mid-1900s. Writer David Von Drehle noted that Americans “now live, work and play in closer proximity to untamed fauna than any other generation of Americans in more than a century.”
State Farm Insurance estimates that there are more than 30,000 deer collisions a year in Indiana. Deer also are host to ticks that spread Lyme disease. Rabies are spread by raccoons and other wild mammals. Wild hogs can cause extensive damage to crops and carry diseases that can be transferred to domestic swine or to other animals, according to the state DNR.
Managing population growth, then, is essential, and hunting is often the most common method.
While the number of Indiana hunters doesn’t come near the half-million mark seen 50 years ago, hunting has had somewhat of a resurgence, with the number of paid hunting license holders increasing from 232,819 in 2005 to about 274,000 last year.
Although deer steal the limelight in northeast Indiana wild turkeys and hogs are also causing problems in other parts of the state.
The DNR’s Backs, based in Mitchell in southern Indiana, said people buy wild turkey eggs, hatch and raise them but can’t deal with the adult animals. Many are turned loose in the country and gravitate back to humans, where they can be aggressive.
In Carmel, turkeys knocked over some older people. In another case, children were confronted by turkeys in a schoolyard, he said.
“The only solution is to destroy the animals,” he said.
With some TV programs glorifying their hunt, wild pigs have become an issue in southern Indiana. While hogs are spreading, the migration “is happening on rubber tires,” with the illegal release of hogs for hunting, Backs said.
A wild pig was a suspected source of a strain of E. coli found in spinach grown in California and blamed for killing three people and sickening more than 200 in 2006.
For deer the most “practical, safe, and cost-effective” way to manage the population is to kill them, according to the DNR. But “harvesting” is emotional for some.
In Bloomington, the issue boiled down to arguments over lethal and non-lethal methods to control deer. The Associated Press reported in December that the City Council had yet to act on recommendations in a 200-page report a year after adopting them.
In the 1990s, Dune Acres in Chesterton became the first Indiana community to address deer populations through controlled hunting. Surrounded by Dunes National Lakeshore, the gated community will always have deer but the hunting program improved vegetation and “deer no longer appear emaciated,” according to a recently released DNR urban deer guide.
Several urban deer zones across the state followed. Today there are zones in some or all of Lake, Porter, Vanderburgh, Allen, Marion, Hendricks, Boone, Hamilton, Tippecanoe, LaPorte and Kosciusko counties. The zones allow bow hunting between Sept. 15 and Jan. 31, in accordance with local ordinances.
It’s not hard to see why the zones have gained acceptance.
In 2008, a large deer entered a south-side Fort Wayne commercial garage. A couple of weeks later five deer leapt to their deaths off the U.S. 224 overpass and onto the northbound lanes of I-69 during the noon hour. Two months after that a deer jumped through a west-side law office window late one morning, hitting a lawyer and knocking over fax machines and computers.
The Fort Wayne urban deer zone, which includes land within the Interstate 69/469 beltway and is among the state’s first, began in 1996. Hunting in city parks is prohibited without permission. Otherwise licensed bow hunting, with landowner approval, is allowed.
In 2012, 282 Fort Wayne urban deer zone licenses were issued, according to the most recent DNR figures.
“We do not have any ordinances within our chapter for Animal Care and Control that make it illegal to hunt,” Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control, responded in an email.
“When someone contacts us reference hunting deer, we advise them they need to secure permission from the landowner and cannot discharge a firearm inside the city limits.”
In Kosciusko County, Warsaw residents complained about deer in their backyards, so the city developed an urban deer zone a few years ago. Trained archers now average 50 deer a year, said Jeff Grose, a Warsaw city councilman and Deer Task Force member. With only close shots allowed, there have been no mishaps, Grose said.
Todd Braddock, 27, a Lakeview Middle School social studies teacher, has been one of those archers for the last five years. He and others must use tree stands so arrows aim downward for safety. Braddock, who has taken eight deer since he started, said he hasn’t heard anything negative about the program.
“I would say the program has been very successful,” he said.
The DNR recognizes Warsaw’s efforts in its deer guide by noting that “fewer deer are seen, no damage complaints from property owners have been submitted, and the number of deer/vehicle collisions has dropped dramatically.”
But there are signs statewide that some want further reductions in the deer population.
A list of preliminary proposals for 2014 by the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife includes the use of guns and bait in urban zones, which would be renamed “reduction zones.”
“Use of firearms and bait (note: it currently is illegal to use bait for deer hunting in Indiana) in deer reduction zones would give communities greater flexibility to manage deer-related problems and should improve deer harvest success rates,” DNR spokesman Phil Bloom said in an email.