Whitetail deer numbers down at Land Between the Lakes

GOLDEN POND, Ky. Whitetail deer numbers at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area are declining, particularly in the Kentucky portion of the federal property.

The LBL includes approximately 170,000 heavily timbered acres separating Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. About 110,000 acres are in Kentucky. The rest spill into Tennessee

Wildlife managers point to hunting pressure as the primary reason for the drop in deer numbers. To ease pressure and hopefully reduce the number of deer hunters who use the property, officials have decided that deer taken from the Kentucky portion of LBL will no longer be bonus deer, but will count against the statewide bag limit. Canada Goose Outlet http://www.icanadagoosereview.top/ The Kentucky LBL archery/crossbow bag has also been trimmed from two deer to one.

The LBL Kentucky archery season opens September 24 October 20; Oct. 24 Nov. 17 and Nov. 21 Jan. 8. The area will also host two firearm quota hunts, including a youth quota hunt, which will remain a bonus deer hunt.

Archery and crossbow hunts are open hunts on the LBL property at least for now.

“There were a couple of reasons for removing the bonus,” said Steve Bloemer, LBL wildlife program manager and a longtime wildlife biologist. “We removed the bonus to reduce the pressure overall on the herd and to reduce the pressure on the bucks. We’re seeing decreasing numbers of mature, bigger bucks coming off LBL.

“(Going forward) we’re going to be increasing our monitoring of hunting and the herd,” he added. “And there could very well be additional changes coming in the future based on what we are able to determine. It’s too early to say what those changes might be.”

The LBL deer herd is likely also suffering from too much success. Kentucky has become a destination state for trophy quality deer. Bloemer suspects LBL’s 110,000 Kentucky acres of open archery hunting is a tempting for archers hoping to take home a trophy.

“We have open archery seasons,” he said. “And with all of the information going out about Kentucky moving up in the ranks (as a top deer hunting destination) it has made Kentucky a very attractive state to come hunt. And LBL is a big tract of public land in a good part of the state so that has to draw a lot more hunting pressure to the Kentucky portion of LBL. And we have good hunting.”

Past hunting pressure and bonus deer aren’t the only reasons LBL whitetail numbers are declining. Bloemer said numbers also reflect the lingering effects of the 2007 major outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), which he said may have started the herd on a “slow downward trend.” He added that LBL’s abundant coyote population also likely takes more than its fair share of young deer.

But overshadowing all other factors is the condition of the LBL forest.

LBL’s woodlands are in great shape for hiking and sightseeing but not so much for supporting a thriving and varied wildlife population including whitetail deer.

The Land Between the Lakes, which is managed by the U. S. Forest Service, is approximately 10 miles wide and 40 miles long. Only about 7 percent are open lands. Approximately 90 percent is forested. The rest is laced with roads, dotted by campgrounds and marked by a few historic sites. The vast majority of the timber is mature hardwoods. In places, the forest canopy is so thick it resembles the Amazon basin. This is not good for deer and many of the other critters that prowl the property.

“We’re only 7 percent open lands,” Bloemer said. “Ideally, if you were managing an area only for (whitetail) deer, and you had unlimited funding, you would want a lot more open lands than 7 percent.”

Of course, LBL isn’t managed only for deer. But is a safe bet that the vast majority of the area’s annual 1.5 million visitors enjoy seeing deer and other wildlife.

When the Land Between the Lakes was established in 1963 the property was about 18 percent open lands and, of course, the forest was a half century younger than it is today.

“Over the years our forests have been expanding and growing older,” said Bloemer, noting that this general trend is good for visitors who traverse the woods enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife but not the best forest management for the critters that live there. “As our forest matures on LBL the canopy is closing up, which means less sunlight to the forest floor and less growth of forbs and grasses that animals that dwell on the ground feed on. And when those canopies close up and the sunlight doesn’t get to the forest floor you have a nice, open scenic view through the forest floor if you’re walking through it but there’s not much food or cover for wildlife down there.”

The solution, Bloemer said, is simple in theory but not in practice.

“We need to open up those canopies and let more grasses and forbs grow down at the ground level for deer and a lot of other wildlife,” he said.

This is difficult in practice because forest management which generally employs select timber harvest and controlled burns is not overly popular with the general public. People like big trees and an unscarred landscape.

Refreshing a forest, Bloemer acknowledged, is ugly work.

“When it’s first implemented on the landscape,” he said, “whether it’s the burn or the timber harvest, neither of those in the immediate turn would produce a nice, beautiful scenery you’d like to see, especially on public lands. But what we have to realize is that’s short term. We’ve got to think long term. What’s going to be the effect in one year; in three years; in five years; in 10 years; in 50 years. That’s what we’ve looking at. What’s going to be the effect down the road.”

There are other short comings of a forest nearing a woodland’s version of senior citizen status.

“Not only does the canopy close up as the forest ages,” Bloemer said. “But the productivity of the mast producing trees that produce the mast that deer and turkey and quail and songbirds and other wildlife depend on decreases. And our forests succession is trending away from oak/hickory towards maple/beech. And maple/beech forests are much less productive in producing food for wildlife; particularly species like deer and turkey.”

LBL hasn’t been absent of forest management and what has been done has generally been successful. But Bloemer understands and acknowledges that any long term, measurable success will be as much a public relations and information success as hands on work in the woods. This is being spearheaded by what Bloemer described as a “collaborative process” of keeping the public informed and involved.

“What we need to be doing to keep our forests growing and healthy, and to provide for a variety of wildlife species, is have all stages of forests out there,” he concluded. “Young, regenerating forest all the way up to and including old growth. Hopefully, through the collaborative process we can help everyone better understand the need for active forest management and help create those early successional and mixed age classes of forest and open lands.”

Kentucky’s early Canada goose season opens Friday, Sept. 16. The early goose hunt runs through September 30. The daily/possession limit is five/15. The five day early wood duck and teal season opens Saturday, Sept. 17, and closes Sept. 21. The daily limit is six to include no more than two wood ducks. The teal only season continues Sept. 22 25. Snipe season opens Sept. 21 Oct. 30.

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