When white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) become overabundant within a park they disrupt park operations, reduce deer health, and threaten natural vegetative communities. At a heavily visited state park in Georgia, where deer were protected from hunting for >15 years, we used spotlight and camera surveys to estimate deer population density before and after a major herd reduction. We measured deer health and abundance of understory plants before and after the reduction. We compared these results to similar data from an adjacent wildlife management area (WMA) where deer were managed for 47 years by hunting. Only one year after removing 172 deer, plant species at the park increased 31% in spite of stable environmental conditions. In addition, before reduction, differences (P = 0.006) in number of plant species at the park versus the WMA became similar (P>0.05) after the removal. Live body weights of adult females and fawns (P<0.0001), physical condition scores (P = 0.0003) of tagged deer, and reproductive status of females (P<0.0001) improved. Although live body weights of deer killed at the park before the reduction were lower (P ≤0.05) than those killed on the adjacent WMA, by the next year, weights of adult females and fawns were similar (P>0.05) at both properties. Although our study demonstrated the viability of lethal removal of deer from a park and measured post-reduction benefits (i.e., density-dependant responses by plants and deer) of that removal, increased reproduction by the residual deer population highlighted the need for continued deer management, including subsequent removals.
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