DNR Wildlife Biologist, Tyler Harms, says the drop coincides with a drop in the number of hunters. “We saw about a three percent drop in license sales and about a 14% drop in the deer harvest statewide this year,” Harms says. The deer taken dropped to 94,000 — compared to nearly 108,000 the year before. Harms says an outbreak of disease is likely behind the drop in license sales.
“We had a significant outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease across the state. And that could’ve resulted in lower numbers of deer out on the landscape — and ultimately resulting in lower harvest,” Harms says. “We do know after an outbreak that we had in 2012 and 2013 we had similar trends in terms of license sales and harvest. So in other words — when we see these big EHD outbreaks statewide — we would expect to see a slight drop in both license sales and harvest.”
Harms says some hunters want to help the deer recover from such outbreaks. “Our hunters are conservationists, and so when they perceive that there’s a threat to the deer population, if they are seeing fewer deer, they are going to make decisions to not harvest deer. To not put additional pressure on the deer population,” Harms says.
Harms says he expects future deer season will return to harvests of 100,000 or more. He says the disease outbreaks cause some concern, but they monitor the deer population closely. “Both at local scales and also statewide. And we would anticipate, given what we know about the deer population status in Iowa currently, that the deer population would recover back to goal levels,” Harms says. The state also reported the most positive tests for Chronic Wasting Disease this season since it started the testing. Harms says that is also a concern.
“What we’re trying to do is gather more information on where the disease is and what the prevalence of the disease is in certain areas,” Harms says. “And then that helps us make a decision on how we are going monitor and manage the deer population moving forward to try and reduce disease spread and disease prevalence.”
Harms says hunters have been very helpful in trying to manage the spread of CWD. He says they can continue to do that by following some simple steps. “Like refraining from putting mineral licks or bait piles out for deer — because that artificially congregates the deer with contributes to the spread. And then also minimizing carcass transport,” Harms says. He says transporting the carcasses of deer that are infected can spread the disease.