Conservation Department Seeks Help to Eliminate Deer from Oak Mountain State Park

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is taking additional measures to thin the deer herd at Oak Mountain State Park. A cooperative effort between the Conservation Department and Wildlife Services will remove more deer from the park in the near future. Wildlife Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, will be sending in a team of highly trained marksmen to thin the herd, and the venison will be donated to a local food bank through the Hunters Helping the Hungry program.

Surveys conducted at Oak Mountain in recent years indicate serious vegetative impact resulting from deer browsing. The natural beauty of the park is also being damaged as a result of plant loss. The results of a herd health check confirmed malnutrition/parasitism syndrome in the deer at Oak Mountain State Park. Simply put, the animals are unhealthy and underweight. The declining herd health was confirmed at a regulated bow hunt held in January. Of the 27 deer taken by hunters, all were underweight and in poor physical condition. After evaluating the options available, the Department of Conservation decided that additional deer would be immediately removed from the park.

Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley said that he hoped more deer would have been taken from the Oak Mountain bow hunt, but it didn’t happen. “What I saw from the deer that were harvested is that they were in extremely poor condition. I cannot in good conscience wait any longer to deal with the problem,” he said. “I believe working with the Wildlife Services is the way to handle the immediate problem. When we get the herd more manageable, then an annual hunt can keep the population in check.”

The Wildlife Services office in Auburn provides assistance to the public and state and federal agencies across the South to manage wildlife problems. Frank Boyd, state director for Wildlife Services in Alabama, said, “We specialize in managing problems associated with wildlife. Our goal at Oak Mountain is to remove deer to help decrease the damage to the habitat and improve the herd health.”

Boyd emphasizes that marksmen associated with the effort at Oak Mountain State Park are highly trained. “Our people are professional wildlife biologists trained in skilled marksmanship,” he said. The team, which usually consists of a driver, spotlighter and marksman, will be using rifles with suppressors to reduce the noise. Boyd says his team will be in the park for several consecutive nights. While it is unlikely that nearby residents will even know the harvest is taking place, residents who hear shots should not be alarmed.

A harvest of mostly does is the goal of this effort, according to Boyd. Each deer will be weighed and aged before being taken for processing. This data will be given to the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and used to monitor the herd health.

Boyd praised the Department of Conservation for taking this step to reduce the herd at Oak Mountain. “The Department is addressing their problem in a very responsible way and Wildlife Services is happy to assist. This effort is being used to supplement the hunting harvest and is part of an integrated program to manage the deer problem at Oak Mountain,” Boyd said. “This form of herd reduction is another part of deer management and is not the sole solution.”

This point is echoed by Department of Conservation officials, who have long said that there is no one, quick solution to the deer problem at Oak Mountain State Park. “Deer management in an urban area such as Oak Mountain is complicated,” Lawley said. “The ultimate goal of this effort is to reduce the deer population within the carrying capacity of the park, and to enhance the habitat and natural beauty of Oak Mountain State Park.”