Every single deer eats approximately two tons of vegetation per year — a basketball full of vegetation each day — said Bill Hamilton, a wildlife ecologist with Park and Planning.
The overabundance of deer in Blockhouse Point Conservation Park, along River Road, has led to severe thinning of understory vegetation, which houses a number of rare, threatened and endangered as well as indigenous plants, and provides habitat for migrating song birds.
Last week's five-day managed deer hunt, Dec. 9-15 in Blockhouse Point Park, gave the county the opportunity to control the numbers of deer in the park and gave Hamilton and his department the chance to study the deer that make the park their home. Hamilton estimates that up to 200 deer live in the park, many more than expected. Before the hunt, ecologists estimated that 100-125 deer were living on the property.
Although, the county canceled Wednesday's portion of the deer hunt due to the ice storm, 88 deer — 82 without antlers and six bucks with antlers — were killed by hunters during the four days the county monitored the hunt.
Sixty hunters were selected for the five-day hunt — 12 per day — from an applicant pool of 350, said Hamilton; 318 were qualified to participate. Of the 60 people registered to participate, 57 hunters showed up, said Hamilton.
Blockhouse Point Conservation Park was closed to the public each day last week from sunrise to noon, for the hunt. Area residents were notified by mail of the hunt and signs were posted throughout the park.
Hamilton said his department did receive some phone calls from citizens who weren't aware the hunt was taking place, but no incidents were reported from residents, no negative calls were received and no road kill was reported during the week.
"We now know that we need to continue management," said Hamilton. "The hunt was very successful.”
It will take several years to see recovery from the effects of the overpopulation of deer.
"Forest regeneration is a long-term process," said Hamilton. It will take five to 10 years before a difference in the understory will be noticed, even with the immediate reduction in the deer population.
Blockhouse Point Conservation Park contains a variety of exceptional resources including mature upland forest, floodplain forest, wetlands, streams and river-rock outcrops. Nine species of threatened, endangered or watch-list species of plants have been identified in the park along with 25 species of fish, eight species of amphibians, seven species of reptiles, 39 species of nesting birds and 14 species of mammals.
The county operates managed deer hunts from November to January.
Although the county did a five-consecutive day hunt related to getting approval for the hunt, Hamilton said he expects that hunts in the future hunts would be spread over a few weeks, one day per week or so.
He said that spreading the hunt over a few-week period would be less intrusive among the citizens and would be more effective for the hunters and county in terms of controlling the numbers of deer in the park.
"As soon as deer realize they are in danger, they go off the property," said Hamilton.