Fifteen years of urban deer management: The fontenelle forest experience


  • Scott E. Hygnstrom,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Natural Resources, 415 Hardin Hall, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0974, USA
    • School of Natural Resources, 415 Hardin Hall, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0974, USA.
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  • Gary W. Garabrandt,

    1. Fontenelle Nature Association, 1111 N Bellevue Boulevard, Bellevue, NE 68005, USA
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  • Kurt C. Vercauteren

    1. National Wildlife Research Center, United States Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services, 4101 LaPorte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521-2154, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Nielsen.


Fontenelle Forest (FF) is a 16.5-km2 serene natural area surrounded by a developed landscape, including Omaha and Bellevue, Nebraska, USA. An overabundant population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) degraded the local forest. In January 1995, we estimated the density of deer at 27 deer/km2 in FF and the adjacent Gifford Point Wildlife Management Area (GP) and Bellevue residential (BR) area. We engaged in a public process to establish a deer management program in this developed landscape and learned from 15 years of experience. Formation of the Bellevue Deer Task Force led to implementation of controlled deer-hunting seasons from 1996 to present. Total annual harvest of white-tailed deer by archery and muzzleloader hunters at FF ranged from 28 in 1996 to 140 in 2006. Mean success rates of archery (52%) and muzzleloader hunters (93%) at FF were high compared to other areas. Densities of white-tailed deer in the study area declined from 27 deer/km2 in 1995 to 15 deer/km2 in 2006, though harvest and deer were not evenly distributed across the landscape. By 2006, densities of deer were near overwinter goals in the hunted FF lowlands, FF uplands, and GP lowlands (7 deer/km2, 5 deer/km2, and 13 deer/km2, respectively), but they remained relatively high in the adjacent unhunted BR area (30 deer/km2). Native plant communities were severely overbrowsed in the study area through 1995, influencing their structure and composition, but signs of recovery were apparent in areas where controlled hunting reduced densities of deer to <6 deer/km2. Controlled hunts at FF have reduced densities of deer in the immediate area to tolerable levels and have been accepted by area residents, with relatively little media coverage and public scrutiny. Total costs of controlled (US$120/deer) and depredation hunts (US$70/deer, 2010 prices) were low compared to other areas and methods. Common themes of the 15-year management program included cooperation, communication, leadership, research-based management, adaptive management, persistence, and resources. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.