by Allison Vaughn
The mission of the Columbia Audubon Society is “to preserve the natural world and its ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife, and the earth’s biological diversity through education, environmental study and habitat restoration and protection.” As such, and as a land managing organization, we aim to preserve and protect our land holdings for the benefit of all biodiversity, especially birds. Since the mid-1980s, the wildlife-urban interface has ramped up to the point that white tailed deer are now also considered urban wildlife. They not only cause vehicle collisions and devour homeowner garden plants, but also impact the biodiversity in urban natural spaces like the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary.
For at least 8 years, CAS has planted native shrubs to attract wildlife with native fruits and seeds. Most of these shrubs have been protected by wire fencing to keep deer from browsing them to a nub, but in many more cases, the deer browse has persisted to the point that planting new shrubs to attract birds may seem futile. The deer overpopulation issue in not only CANS but also adjacent Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary has grown to epic proportions with evidence of deer browsing even unpalatable species, browsing to the point that the shrubs do not possess the natural character of a shrub but as “lollipops,” wherein the only unbrowsed portions are out of the reach of a deer.
Deer herbivory is known to cause trophic cascade effects, which means that when the deer eat all of the plants, the insects have nothing to feed on, and without insects, the birds disappear. This is happening throughout Missouri, and we’re trying to prevent it from occurring at a dramatic degree. There is no shrub layer developing, and all of the old growth white oaks which stand sentry on the site are not being replaced because white oak sprouts are a preferred browse species by deer. The grassland restoration project at CANS which included many species of flowers is being impacted by deer browsing flowering heads to a degree.
In mid-January, CAS members from the Nature Areas Committee and leadership met with the City of Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department to discuss initiating an urban archery deer hunt at Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary to help address the deer overpopulation issue at CANS and Bonnie View NS. Considering the high visitation at CANS during fall months, and the Band With Nature special event that brings in 2,000+ second graders, it was determined that any managed hunt should occur only on Bonnie View NS, which is also a greater acreage with lower visitation. CAS supports Parks and Rec to seek permission from the Missouri Department of Conservation to open Bonnie View NS to an archery season to remove deer from the property. There will not be any deer stands on CAS property, though if the unfortunate event occurs that a deer struck with a crossbow perishes on CAS property, the hunter is allowed to remove the deer from our property.
We have great hopes that a managed deer hunt at Bonnie View will help not only reduce vehicle collisions 0n adjacent roads, but also depradation of CANS’s plant life. To continue to monitor this issue, CAS will be installing deer exclosures–woven wire fence supported by fenceposts to keep deer out to see what plants show up inside that are absent outside the exclosure. In February, we will be conducting winter twig browse surveys to determine how much pressure deer are putting on the shrubs and saplings at CANS. We are gathering data, and hope that with a managed hunt in 2022-2023 on Bonnie View NS that we will see less herbivory on our shrubs and other plants so that we can continue to fulfill our mission to support all biodiversity. The archery hunt is in a proposal stage at this time and we will keep everyone informed on this issue.