A Publication of WTVP

Another harvest season has begun. Although farmers are in the heart of corn and soybean harvest, I’m referring to hunters beginning their annual deer harvest. Bow hunters took to the woods on October 1, which marked the beginning of the 2007–08 season. It should be another great year for deer hunters as populations continue to be high. Last year, 1,486 deer were harvested by Peoria County hunters during the seven-day firearm season, and 115,192 were harvested statewide. During the first firearm season (Nov. 17-19), 1,237 deer were taken and the second season (Nov. 30-Dec.3) yielded 286 deer. The snowstorm of the decade was a major factor in lower deer harvest numbers during that second season.

Many states, including Illinois, have witnessed this surplus of deer. Their exploding population can be traced to a number of things, beginning with the lack of natural predators and the hunters’ favor for taking bucks instead of does.

In some cases, urban sprawl has accelerated the issue of deer becoming a nuisance. Quickly-growing suburbs, road construction in rural areas and country subdivisions are all factors. Deer are pushed out of their natural, wooded habitat (or houses are built in the middle of it), causing them to feed in farm fields and gardens.

Excessive deer populations affect nearly everyone—motorists, home owners, farmers, gardeners and campers. Many deer have caused vehicular damage, and in several cases, human injury as a Iissuesresult. In Illinois, transportation officials estimate that 12,000 deer die in car accidents annually. In a recent survey, over 500 deer/vehicle accidents were reported in Peoria County.

Farmers have also seen the effects of high deer populations. Heavy crop damage has occurred, especially in fields adjacent to parks. This spring, a herd of approximately 200 deer was spotted grazing in a farm field in Peoria County. You can imagine what a grazing herd would do to spring growth! A perennial hay crop or pasture, such as red clover, alfalfa or grass, has a chance to regrow during the season, but annual crops like corn or soybeans are total losses if the plants are consumed. Some crop loss around field edges can be expected, but when herds are large and consume a large part of valuable crops, it becomes a real issue.

In most cases, when animal populations are out of control, nature will eventually cause a selective thinning of the species through the onset of diseases. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has infected deer in Wisconsin and has migrated south into northern Illinois. Although CWD is a contagious and fatal disease among deer, research suggests that humans, cattle and other domestic livestock are resistant to natural transmission.

On September 10, a news release came through my office from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. It stated that an outbreak of an acute, infectious virus that kills white-tailed deer has been detected in Illinois. Epizootic Hemorrahagic Disease (EHD), an often-fatal virus which causes high fever and severe internal bleeding, had been confirmed in captive deer herds in two counties in southern Illinois. This disease is the suspected cause of the death of wild deer in at least 28 counties throughout central and southern Illinois. Supposedly, it poses no risk to humans. Domestic animals such as livestock may become infected, but rarely exhibit signs of the disease or develop serious injury.

In an effort to help manage the deer herd in our county, the Peoria County Farm Bureau is sponsoring a “Most Does Taken” deer contest. The winner of the contest will be the hunter who turns in the most does taken in Peoria County between October 1 and December 17, 2007. The winner will be awarded $300 if they are a member of the Peoria County Farm Bureau and $200 if they are not at the time the contest began. IBI