Ham Lake turns down idea of special deer hunt

Ham Lake will not go through the time-consuming process of setting up a special deer hunt in the community in order to cut down on the number of deer versus car collisions.

According to Anoka County Sheriff’s Office statistics, the number of deer versus vehicle collisions decreased between 2007 and 2010, but there was a sudden spike in 2011. There were 92 accidents in 2007, 89 in 2008, 78 in 2009, 73 in 2010 and 104 in 2011.

A resident is concerned about the number of deer and car collisions, but the Ham Lake City Council decided to not push for any special hunts because of the extensive legwork the Minnesota DNR requires for this to happen. Courtesy of Minnesota DNR
A resident is concerned about the number of deer and car collisions, but the Ham Lake City Council decided to not push for any special hunts because of the extensive legwork the Minnesota DNR requires for this to happen. Courtesy of Minnesota DNR

Ham Lake resident Steve Petersen, a firearms safety instructor, sent a letter to the Ham Lake City Council several weeks ago to raise concerns about the number of deer versus car crashes.

For 2012, archery hunters will be able to take deer from Sept. 15 through Dec. 31. There are different firearms hunting dates depending on the classification of the gun that take place from early November through early December, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

The council discovered that it is not an easy process to authorize special hunts beyond the hunting season.

“We can’t just call the DNR and tell them we would like to hunt more,” Mayor Mike Van Kirk said. “We’ve got to do some extra work.”

The DNR requires a deer population estimate, a deer population goal, a written plan on achieving those goals, an accurate record of deer and vehicle collisions, a system to record citizen complaints and public involvement during the discussions.

DNR Urban Area Wildlife Supervisor Bryan Lueth could provide some advice and attend public meetings, but it would be up to the city of Ham Lake to put together these documents.

“Most studies have shown that there really needs to be buy-in for this to work rather than an outside agency coming in telling them what to do,” Lueth said.

According to Lueth, the DNR has historically recommended that there be no more than 20 deer per square mile. However, recent studies have indicated it may be best to have no more than 10 deer per square mile to maintain a good plant diversity.

The council did not express any interest in counting the number of deer in the community and coming up with the management plan.

“It all comes down to, if we want to hunt more in Ham Lake, I think our only option is to let our citizens understand that we’re either going to run them over or put them in your freezer,” Van Kirk said regarding deer population control.

Petersen said the DNR had a good policy of allowing unlimited antlerless permits in 2011 in the metro area.

However, Petersen said the DNR and state Legislature should lower hunting permit fees to encourage more people to hunt, lengthen the deer hunting season, allow city councils to decide whether the deer population is too high without having to go through all the DNR’s red tape and generally step up to the plate to make it easier for people to hunt and for cities to manage the deer population.

Although Petersen understands these would be controversial moves, he is more concerned about the damage an excessive deer population can have on vehicles, people’s health and crops. He knows many people who have hit deer with their vehicles. He has had two collisions himself since moving to Ham Lake in 1978.

“I wish there was an easier way to do something,” Petersen said regarding the reduction of Ham Lake’s deer population.

Ham Lake hunting

Councilmember Gary Kirkeide said it would be useful to remind citizens in the Ham Laker newsletter when deer hunting season is, what the DNR rules are and what the implications are if the deer population is not kept under control.

Van Kirk said the challenge for Ham Lake is that it does not have a lot of public land on which to hunt, so it is up to private landowners to hunt. Chances are that you have to be the owner, the leasee of the property or have written permission from the owner to show to police to hunt in Ham Lake.

According to city code, you generally cannot hunt near homes, churches, schools, parks or roads. If you want to hunt on your own property or you obtained written permission to hunt on someone else’s property, you still cannot hunt with any firearm or bow and arrow within 500 feet of a residential dwelling unless you have written permission for the landowner to be closer to the home.

The Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area is open to hunting during the regular deer hunting season, but Lueth said there are no special hunts outside of the regular hunting season anywhere in northern Anoka County.

The Minneapolis Water Works facility in Fridley has some controlled hunts to control the deer population. The city of North Oaks is the nearest city to Ham Lake with special hunts, Lueth said.

Numerous cities along the Minnesota River in the more populated south metro have DNR permits for special hunts.

City staff also contacted the Metro Bow Hunters Resource Base, which is an organization that works with cities to remove deer. The organization sent the city a 50-page study that included various techniques for controlling deer populations such as controlled hunts, fencing, devices that make noise to frighten the deer, deer warning signs for drivers, changing landscaping to plants deer do not like to eat, for example.

The DNR does not approve the trap and transferring of deer. The study the Metro Bow hunters Resource Base referenced reported that previous studies have shown that relocation is highly stressful for the deer and may result in a high post-release mortality rate.

“Long story short, it comes down to the only thing I think that we could do that could have any impact is public awareness,” Van Kirk said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]