Walking through Kopf Family Reservation, one of Lorain County’s newest Metro Parks, one can’t help but notice the serenity of the dense woods – and the number of deer.
Regardless of what time of year it is, strollers or bike riders taking advantage of the more than two miles of trails in the L-shaped park off Electric Boulevard, dedicated as a Lorain County Metro Park in 2008, are almost certain to have a close encounter with one of the dozens of deer that call the reservation home.
And while deer may seem symbolic of the woods’ tranquility, the sheer number that live and pass through each day are affecting the park’s vegetation and ecosystem.
In northeast Ohio, the ideal capacity for deer is about 30 per square mile (640 acres).
“The holding capacity for this woods, 162 acres….would be about eight deer,” Kopf Family Reservation Park Manager Grant Thomspon said. “You take a walk through and we’re seeing 20 deer at a time. There have been times we’ve seen as many as 40."
That sustainability number is based on a regular supply of growth, but the supply is being threatened with a high number of deer nipping down shrubs and bushes.
Two years ago Thompson erected two plant enclosures, fenced off areas that deer can not enter. The idea was to compare the growth on the inside of the enclosure, untouched by the deer, with the surrounding area. Photos taken in July show a clear difference with the inside of the enclosure boasting a healthy amount of green vegetation compared to the stripped down forest and understory outside the enclosure.
Thompson is concerned about the rapidly evaporating foliage and the potential for a continued increase in the deer population.
“A herd can increase 82 percent in one year,” he said.
While first time deer mothers generally produce one offspring, subsequent pregnancies generate two or three fawns. The end result is a metro park being stripped down.
“The woods itself is being impacted tremendously,” Thompson said. “They’re eating everything on the ground. From about 4 and a half feet down they’re eating all of the green growth."
The issue has become a hot topic in Solon as well, with the city reviewing options.
Just what can be done about the population is not yet certain.
Councilwoman Jennifer Fenderbosch said the Environmental Affairs Advisory Board (EAAB) has been conducting a “spotlight” deer survey has been ongoing in the entire city of Avon Lake, where pairs have gone out during different times of the day to get an idea of how many deer live here. The survey will continue through 2011.
Fenderbosch said she has heard reports of deer challenging people and is concerned over automobile accidents involving deer as well as destruction of vegetation.
“What we see is less than 30 percent of the actual population,” she said. “In 12 square miles there should be no more than 30-40 deer.”
The estimate for Avon Lake is much higher.
Fenderbosch said the EAAB has formed a subcommittee, the Deer Investigative Research Group to put a strategy together with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) who technically has jurisdiction over the deer.
“The ODNR own all the deer,” Fenderbosch said at a recent Environmental Affairs Committee meeting. “They need to determine if there’s a healthy or unhealthy herd.
If unhealthy they may have to do something. “
Currently city law prohibits general hunting.
“There’s no hunting at all,” Avon Lake Police Chief David Owad said. “No hunting with guns, bow and arrows or sling shot.”
There is a “culling program” in place however. That program allows individuals to apply for a culling permit from ODNR, however strict regulations are in place. Culling, by bow and arrow, is only permitted on property 5 or more acres in size and there needs to be proof of agricultural damage.
Fenderbosch said only two culling permits have been issued in the past 10 years. Currently, Avon Lake has 11 parcels of property, many of them city-owned parks, that are more than 5 acres in size.
A change in the laws isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“ODNR could tell Avon Lake, ‘you need to change your laws,’” Fenderbosch said. “They may ask the city to do something. What that something else is has yet to be seen. ”