DuPage culling nearly 400 deer from its preserves
Federal sharpshooters are in the process of culling nearly 400 deer as part of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District's annual deer management program.
The district has received permits from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to remove 395 deer from 23 forest preserves throughout the county. This year's removal effort started Nov. 3.
The culling, which occurs during the overnight hours when the preserves are closed, will continue until the target number of deer are removed.
"In past years, we've been done within two months," Scott Meister, the district's ecology coordinator, said. "Other times, we go all the way through February."
Meister said the deer management program is needed to maintain the ecological balance of the preserves and ensure there's a habitat for all the plants and animals.
"We recognize that deer provide a valuable function," he said. "It's important that they are part of the ecosystem. That's why we try to maintain the population at a compatible density."
Before settlers came to DuPage, there were predators such as cougars and wolves that helped keep the deer population in check.
Now the deer have an opportunity to become overabundant because of an absence of natural predators and hunters.
"When deer are overabundant, they can over-browse certain plant species," Meister said. "When that happens, there's a ripple effect into the environment where there's decreased habitat not only for the plants but also for the birds and other wildlife species."
Also, if deer become too abundant, they present a hazard to motorists.
Started in 1993, the current goal of DuPage's deer management program is to maintain a population that's about 15 to 20 deer per square mile.
"The deer population at that number won't be negatively impacting the environment from an overabundance standpoint," Meister said.
As a result of the program, the overall health of the deer population has improved.
"When deer were really overabundant in the county, their body condition was in poor shape," Meister said. "Today, the animals are more healthy. They're fatter."
Like past years, the district has hired U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters to kill the deer. District employees accompany the sharpshooters to provide support and ensure safety.
After the hunts, DuPage deer carcasses are processed and donated to food pantries. Last year, more than 13,000 pounds of ground venison was donated to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.