A group representing a wide range of Iowa agricultural interests say that deer continue to cause significant loss of crops, trees and forage and has recommended 30 improvements to a state program designed to reduce those agricultural losses.

It’s critical to make improvements in the deer depredation program now, group said, because the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reduced the number of antlerless deer tags overall in the state for the current hunting season. In addition, the groups said the DNR needs to work harder to raise awareness of the deer depredation program among farmers, livestock raisers, tree growers and others, the group wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, DNR Director Chuck Gipp and Bill Northey, Iowa Agriculture Secretary.

"We continue to hear from some of our members that they are seeing significant deer damage to crops and other agricultural production," said Rick Robinson, environmental policy advisor for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF).

More than crop damage

Deer damage is also causing problems for livestock raisers, said Justine Stevenson of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA). "During last year’s cold winter, we heard from a lot of our members who lost silage or DDGs (dried distillers grains) to deer, and some even said they saw deer in the bale rings," she said. "Deer have also damaged high tensile fencing that cattle raisers use for rotational grazing."

Ace Hendricks of the Iowa Woodland Owners Association said deer damage is a constant problem for tree growers and the depredation program needs to be improved. "It’s really a big problem for our members, all over the state."

Deer, Hendricks said, often damage young trees by browsing and rubbing against them. "It doesn’t kill the tree, but it’s not ever going to be the same."

Some tree growers have put up fencing to protect the young trees from deer, Hendricks said. "But they wonder why they have go to that expense to protect their trees from the state’s deer."

Along with IFBF, ICA and the Woodland Owners, the group included representatives from the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers As­­sociation, the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association, Iowa State University Extension, the Iowa Wine Growers Assoc­iation and the Iowa State Hort­icultural Society. 

The group’s recommendations on the deer depredation program were sent to the DNR. The group was convened by Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Under the current depredation program, someone producing crops or other agricultural products can consult with a DNR depredation biologist to assess the amount of deer damage. If the producer has sustained $1,000 worth of damage, or is expected to sustain that much, he or she is eligible to obtain a depredation permit through a three-year plan developed by the DNR biologist.

The depredation hunting lic­enses allow harvesting of additional deer during hunting seasons and nuisance deer outside of hunting seasons with shooting permits. The DNR biologist may also provide other approaches to reduce deer damage below the $1,000 threshold and to control the population with normal hunting pressure.

Key recommendations

Some of the key recommendations of the deer task force were:

• Allow the use of shooting permits on properties immediately adjacent to ones owned by farmers experiencing damage.

• Establish a valuation of per­ennial crops, such as nursery stock and windbreaks, which are often damaged but are not killed by deer.

Hendricks of the Woodland Owners Association said the depredation program currently doesn’t work well for tree growers because it typically pays only for new seedling trees and doesn’t account for the value of several years of growth in trees that were damaged by deer.

• Expanding the methods of acceptable documentation of deer damage to include photographs, feed-loss calculations and third-party evaluations.

• Simplify the permit process into a single license that could be used year-round, and issuing the permits at no cost.

• Eliminate the requirement that all deer killed during depredation must be recovered and processed for human consumption. Alternative disposal methods, such as composting, should be allowed, the group said.

• Eliminate shooting hour restrictions, allow farmers to use the most effective weapon and include both antlered and antlerless deer, as specified in the management plan.

• Eliminate the requirement that antlers from harvested deer must be turned over to a conservation officer within 24 hours and allow alternative means of handling antlers.

The group said some of the recommended changes to the depredation program can be implemented through policy changes, some may require rule changes and others would require legislation.