National park culls excess deer to save rare vegetation

Project Summary: Federal officials culled excess deer that were decimating vegetation at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

 

Project name: Great Lakes Ecosystem Protected From Overabundant Wildlife.

Location: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Bayfield, Wisconsin.

A researcher takes stock of Canada yew on York Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. (National Park Service photo)

A researcher takes stock of Canada yew on York Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. (National Park Service photo)

Description: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior is comprised of 22 islands offshore of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Whitetail deer were rare on the islands until the 1950s, when the population increased on several islands. Since 2000, the deer population has exploded on two of the islands: Sand Island and York Island. The animals flourished on those islands because they feasted on Canada yew, an evergreen shrub and a remnant of hardwood forests that were widespread in the northern Great Lakes in the 1800s. Logging, development and a growing deer herd have eliminated most yew from the region’s forests. The Apostle Islands are home to some of largest remaining stands of Canada yew in the region. National Park Service officials concluded that it was necessary to kill as many deer as possible on York and Sand islands to protect the native shrubs, which can grow to eight-feet-tall. The agency in 2005 tried to thin the deer herd by extending the hunting season, but hunters didn’t kill enough of the animals. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative allowed the Park Service to bring in

Apostle Islands, where excessive deer were culled to help bring back Canada yew. Photo from Flickr/TimWilson.

Apostle Islands, where excessive deer were culled to help bring back Canada yew. Photo from Flickr/TimWilson.

sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Since 2009, marksmen have killed about 150 deer on Sand Island and an estimated 30 deer on the 300-acre York Island. Continued hunting has kept deer from re-populating either of those islands.

Approximate cost of project: $822,000, which was provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Resource challenges addressed: Excessive deer browsing of one of the region’s largest stands of Canada yew, and loss of wildlife habitat.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin.

Types of jobs created: Biologists, ecologists, sharpshooters and truck drivers who delivered hundreds of pounds of venison to needy families in the area.

Results and accomplishments: The deer cull removed a total of nearly 200 deer on Sand and York islands, which has allowed stands of Canada yew to recover.

Web site: www.nps.gov/apis/index.htm

Originally Published: September 3, 2013

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