BEMIDJI -- After wrapping themselves up in coats, hats, and even the odd blanket, a handful of students from Bemidji State piled into two vehicles Monday night to go count deer in the city.
Driving at a snail’s pace with the windows open, the students pointed spotlights out of the car to see how many deer were making their way through front lawns, driveways and other areas of town.
While the university provides the results of the annual deer survey to the city to help with the archery hunt and control the deer population, it also allows students to get experience working in the field.
“It’s a way to involve undergraduates in practical applications,” BSU Biology Professor Brian Hiller said, adding that it allows them to gain skills outside the classroom and be more marketable to employers. “It allows them to actually compete for jobs.”
When their spotlights would land on a deer, they’d record data such as how many deer there were in a given spot, whether they were does or bucks and their approximate ages. They would then take distance measurements from the road. They use that information to calculate a deer density estimate.
They conduct the survey over several days. In fact, they drive through multiple routes within three survey areas to get a sense of the deer population.
Bemidji State senior Tim Paquin came out for the survey Monday night for his class “Mammalogy.” Another senior, Abigail Voz, said one of the reasons she came out was for the real-life experience working in the biology field.
“I think it’s really good hands-on experience to see how they conduct these surveys,” Voz said. “When making a management plan, people conduct these surveys so they have a better understanding of what needs to be done.”
Bemidji State has been doing the deer survey consistently for the last eight years and gives the research to the city of Bemidji to better plan for the city's annual archery hunt.
The city uses the information to help determine whether city archery hunt is effective. The archery hunts are held in Ward 5, Ward 4 and by the Bemidji Regional Airport. Although the hunt runs from Sept. 14 through Dec. 31, the city is no longer accepting applications for this year’s hunt.
Dave Rave, DNR wildlife supervisor for the Bemidji area, said the ideal number of deer per square mile within the city is about 15. Instead, the actual number of deer per square mile is closer to 30, he said. There are a number of reasons for that, such as the fact that food is easy to find and there's fewer natural predators to worry about. Plus, even with the archery hunt, there's less pressure on the deer population from hunters inside the city than there is outside the city.
Hiller reiterated some of those same comments.
“It’s a little higher than it really should be,” Hiller said about the deer population. “High deer densities have a lot of impact on people. Above and beyond the physical capacity of the land, there’s also a social capacity.... we’re only willing to hit so many deer on our way home from work. ”