ROCHESTER – After years of concerns about deer overpopulation, Rochester city officials are set to cull some of the herd.
Rochester will host its first deer arrow hunt in local parks next month after more than a year of debate about how best to deal with the quadruple threat.
More than 200 deer-related car accidents were reported in Rochester in 2021, which city officials say is not out of the ordinary.
“There has been an ongoing problem with deer cart accidents over the years,” said Mike Neigbor, chief of the Rochester Forest and Forest Park Division. “It’s not an issue that’s one or two years old and growing. It’s an ongoing problem we’ve had for decades.”
Rochester is not alone in deer problems, as urban areas across the state have struggled for years with deer. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working to set targets for deer censuses across the state, which are expected to end next year.
DNR set goals for southeastern Minnesota this year after collecting input from fishermen and landowners over the past winter and spring. DNR officials expect the local deer population to remain unchanged over the next decade, as hunters largely believed there were too few deer and landowners believed there were too many.
As their natural habitat dwindled, deer have adapted to both rural and urban areas. They can strip parks and neighborhoods of vegetation through overeating, cause potential traffic accidents and spread Lyme disease, among other public health concerns.
Rochester Parks and Recreation Director Paul Weidman told Rochester City Council in May that there were confirmed reports of deer spreading COVID-19 among humans, which was a factor in the city’s decision to go ahead with hunting.
Weidmann also said that deer are affecting the city’s park system, stripping plants and pushing other species from the area as a result. In Indian Heights Park, residents have recently tried to restore the local grasses in the area – even deer have stuck to them.
“This is a common complaint we have from neighbors,” Weidmann said at the time.
Cities across the state have embarked on hunting over the years to control deer numbers, with many communities—Mankato, Duluth and Saint Cloud among them—starting hunting in the early to mid-2000s.
“They have their own set of challenges that are not necessarily dealt with by the occasional hunting season,” said Brandon Shad, DNR Wildlife Supervisor in southeastern Minnesota.
In Rochester, hunters can harvest deer at 11 parks during the deer shooting season, which begins September 17. The Rochester Shooting Club regulates the hunt, which requires hunters to be at least 18 years old, attend deer hunting courses and pass a aptitude test, among other things.
Jeff Lane, the club’s vice president, said five fishermen have applied. Club members and city officials aren’t expecting many deer harvests in the fall, but are looking to start the process without affecting residents.
“The main thing is to try to make everyone happy,” Lian said. “Give hunters a chance to hunt some deer and reduce the population in the city without affecting the rest of the community that may or may not use the parks.”