According to Minnesota law, deer are owned by the state and managed on behalf of the people of Minnesota by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Across most of the state that occurs in dozens of management units, to achieve more localized goals. However, in some places, namely the Twin Cities metro area, things get complicated.
Most of the metro area is included in deer permit area 701, where hunting often does not occur due to firearms discharge restrictions imposed by municipalities. Scott Noland, DNR Wildlife Manager in Forest Lake, says there isn’t much he can do to influence management in those places. According to the DNR’s Urban Deer Population Control policy, where local ordinances preclude firearm use, “responsibility for deer population management reverts substantially to the LGU [local governmental unit].”
Where that is the case, several things are required of LGUs that undertake deer population control. Those include making a deer population estimate, stating a population goal, a public input process, and a written plan to achieve population goals. Also, accurate records of deer-car collisions and citizen complaints must be kept.
Noland explains that where the onus is on LGUs to keep deer numbers reasonable, his role is to help facilitate management. He does that through setting liberal harvest limits (currently five deer per hunter in area 701) and making himself available for technical guidance. “We’re trying to drive the population toward goal, while providing municipalities flexibility to achieve their goals.”
For hopeful hunters and other residents who wish to understand where hunting is allowed or how deer control is conducted, local ordinances and policies vary widely. Some cities, like Blaine, Hugo and Lino Lakes allow hunting in some areas, with restrictions. Most others, like Shoreview, White Bear Township and Stillwater, authorize little to no hunting whatsoever.
The city of Vadnais Heights does allow deer hunting with a permit issued through application process, which comes with several stipulations. City Administrator Kevin Watson reports there are usually 15-25 permits issued each year. There have been 21 issued so far in 2021.
Watson explains that issuing such permits is part of the city’s overall deer management strategy and is accepted by the community. And while he says, “a little bit of it is tradition,” the city genuinely wants participants to help control the population: “We do ask people to harvest [deer] if they’re able.” The total number of deer taken in 2020 was 21; in the last eight years that number has ranged from
15 to 36.
Another part of Vadnais Heights’ deer management includes Ramsey County’s use of controlled hunts. Those hunts take place annually across the county, typically in parks and open spaces. The Metro Bowhunters Resource Base provides the hunters and administers the hunts during regular deer season, in cooperation with Ramsey County (and other counties and cities all over the area). According to Michael Goodnature, Natural Resource Manager for Ramsey Co. Parks & Recreation Department, those hunts are focused on the higher concentrations of deer.
Each year, Goodnature conducts an aerial population survey to determine the numbers and locations of deer in Ramsey County. The results of those surveys help inform the county’s approach to deer management, as well as individual cities.
While the stated population goal is 20 deer per square mile of suitable deer habitat, deer density has been at least twice that for over two decades (topping out at 95 deer/sq.mi. in 2004). Certain places, like Turtle Creek in Shoreview and the Vadnais Lake area, are perennial hotspots.
Goodnature acknowledges that chronically high deer density may cause detriment to the overall health of the environment, not to mention the deer themselves. But, like Noland, his ability to get deer numbers low is somewhat limited by population goals set by the municipalities within Ramsey County. “Basically, I only have jurisdiction over Ramsey County Parks.”
If, after the controlled hunts, deer numbers still remain high, Goodnature has the option to hire sharpshooters to further reduce the population. This technique was applied as recently as last year, however, it is cost prohibitive and not feasible for achieving landscape-wide population control.
Both Noland and Goodnature cite citizen complaints as one of the main drivers of deer management policy. Combined with population surveys, complaints help determine where deer control needs to happen, and to what extent. Residents living where firearm discharge restrictions are in place are encouraged to contact the city first, as they are likely required to keep records of such complaints.
For those interested in learning more about controlled bowhunts being conducted in the area, Ramsey and Washington County websites list the current year’s hunts, as does the Metro Bowhunters Resource Base website: mbrb.org.
Roy Heilman is a contributing writer for Press Publications. He can be reached at email@example.com or 651-407-1200.