State Park Deer Hunts Saving Disappearing Plants

Posted On July 11, 2014

By Kelcey Mucker

(Undated) – Deer and their appetites were doing a number on certain species of plants in Indiana’s state parks.

Luckily, efforts to lower the whitetail population through hunting have helped those plants bounce back.

A research team from Purdue University reports this week that regulated deer hunts in Indiana state parks have helped restore the health of forests suffering from decades of damage caused by overabundant populations of deer.

Michael Jenkins, professor of forest ecology, said that while hunting may be unpopular with some, it is an effective means of promoting the growth and richness of Indiana’s natural areas. In 1993, the Department of Natural Resource introduced controlled hunts in state parks. Most parks adopted the strategy in 1996.

“We can’t put nature in a glee dome and think it’s going to regulate itself,” he said “Because our actions have made the natural world the way it is, we have an obligation to practice stewardship to maintain ecological balance.”

The study compared the amount of plant cover in 108 plots in state parks. Biologists found that the total cover has more than doubled from 1996-97 to 2010. Herbs such as asters, violets, and goldenrods increased from about 20 percent to about 32 percent of total plant cover.

The ending result of the study shows that the hunting program led to the recovery of native species and discouraged the spread of invasive and exotic species. There was an improvement in the quality and diversity in the forest understory in state parks compared to the conditions before the hunting program.