State park announces hunt

After considering several options and consulting various studies during the past few years, state officials announced last week their plans to coordinate an archery hunt in an effort to control the growing deer population at Oak Mountain State Park.

Seventy hunters will be drawn from a list of applicants to hunt the whitetail deer, which are so abundant in the park, officials say, that the herd has become unhealthy and damaged the natural habitat in search of food.

The near 10,000-acre park has become increasingly surrounded by development in recent years, eliminating surrounding deer habitat and causing the area to become &uot;way overpopulated,&uot; said Barnett Lawley, commissioner of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The problem is compounded, Lawley said, by a lack of natural predators and hunters to thin the herd.

&uot;The way that we control populations in Alabama and every other state is hunting,&uot; Lawley said. &uot;That hasn’t been done in the park.

&uot;When overpopulation occurs what you’re going to have is your deer staggering over and dying,&uot; Lawley said. &uot;We’re not good stewards if we let that happen.&uot;

Scott Stone serves as president of Friends of Oak Mountain, an organization representing special interest groups at the park.

Stone said the organization doesn’t oppose the plan he referred to as the &uot;lesser of the evils.&uot;

&uot;We feel like its probably not a perfect solution but it’s an issue we feel needs to be addressed.

&uot;It would be hard for anyone to argue that there is not an overpopulation of deer,&uot; he said.

Stone said he took a friend to Oak Mountain last week and counted 23 deer in an hour and a half.

&uot;One of them was in the road when we drove up and just stood there while I photographed it,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s just not natural.&uot;

Excess deer populations not only cause problems when they spill into the roadways, but foraging deer can also destroy habitat used by squirrels, rabbits, birds and other small animals.

&uot;When I was out there the other day, I saw 23 deer. But I bet you I could have walked around all day and not seen 23 squirrels or 23 rabbits,&uot; Stone said.

For Stone, the issue boils down to doing what’s best for Oak Mountain State Park.

&uot;This is not a hunting or anti-hunting issue,&uot; he said. &uot;This is about preserving a natural eco-system that is a rare gem in the Birmingham area &045; which is a state park in the middle of an urban setting.&uot;

Lawley agrees.

&uot;There are a lot of people that hate this is being done, but they know why its going to have to be done,&uot; Lawley said.

&uot;We have a responsibility to the park, the natural resource and the deer.&uot;

But the chance to bag a deer at Oak Mountain is an enticing one for the many hunters expected to apply.

The entire park will be closed on Jan. 27-28 for the regulated hunt to take place.

Participants will be drawn lottery-style from eligible applicants &045; Alabama residents with a current hunting license and legal archery equipment.

Once selected, hunters will be required to pass an archery proficiency test before they are allowed to hunt.

Hunters will be allowed to take up to two deer per day, only one of which may be antlered, in accordance with Alabama game regulations.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will accept applications from now until Jan. 8 at 5 p.m.

Applicants will be charged a $6 fee and hunters chosen by the lottery will be charged a $50 use fee.

More information can be found on the website, www.outdooralabama.com