Deer on Whidbey can be pretty bold. Photo by Geoff Hess

Deer on Whidbey can be pretty bold. Photo by Geoff Hess

Program pays island landowners to allow hunting

The state is encouraging hunting in an attempt to ease deer overpopulation on Whidbey and other islands in North Puget Sound.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife recently announced a private lands hunting access program in which landowners may earn up to $1,000 for allowing deer hunters on their property.

While most people are fond of the graceful, dewy-eyed blacktail deer native to Whidbey Island, too many of the animals spells trouble — and not because of the recent spate of deer attacking people and pets. Wildlife experts said that was about overprotective mothers, not overpopulation.

Ruth Milner, biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said an overabundance of deer browsing on native vegetation leads to “a cascade effect on insects and birds that depend on a robust, layered canopy within the forest.”

On Whidbey, deer nibble golden paintbrush, an endangered plant, and other keystone species. On San Juan Island, deer eat the tumble mustard when other plants are depleted, thereby threatening the island marble butterfly, a beautiful and endangered butterfly that is found nowhere except San Juan Island, according to Fish and Wildlife.

In addition, the proliferation of deer leads to a safety concern with cars regularly crashing into the hoofed creatures. And some people become frustrated with deer eating their gardens and flower beds.

“They have both social and ecological effects,” Milner said, adding that deer on the island tend to be nutritionally stressed.

According to Milner, wolves, cougar and bear used to live on the islands and kept the deer populations in check, but those predators were killed off by the 1860s or so. Coyotes will take a few fawns, she said, but not enough to make a significant difference.

There’s not much hunting by humans on the islands, largely due to the lack of public property where it is allowed, Milner said. On Whidbey, a deer hunter is restricted to archery or a shotgun, depending on the season.

To take part in the program, an island resident must have more than five acres. Landowners can specify how many hunters may hunt at one time, where they are allowed to go on the property, and decide which days they can come, but under this program, they can’t specify who is allowed access, according to Fish and Wildlife.

• Those interested should contact Rob Wingard, a private lands access manager with Fish and Wildlife, at 360-466-4345, ext. 240, or by email at Robert.Wingard@dfw.wa.gov to set up an appointment.

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