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LINCOLN - The deer populations at DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges have exploded, and officials are counting on increased hunting pressure to reduce the numbers.
For the first time, Nebraska hunters will be allowed to use rifles at DeSoto during two of four weekend hunts scheduled there. Rifle hunters will not be allowed to kill bucks, but each hunter can kill two antlerless deer.
Nebraska Game and Parks commissioners Friday also created a new elk unit that stretches along the North Platte River from the Wyoming border to Ogallala.
The number of firearm antelope permits was reduced by 50 after Kit Hams, the commission's big game specialist, said the severe drought has caused herd reductions because of low fawn recruitment.
Mindy Sheets, assistant refuge manager at DeSoto, said 983 deer were counted from a helicopter in February 2004.
"We've always said our carrying capacity on the refuge is 500 deer," Sheets said. "We were shocked at that total. That means the number of deer are about double of our carrying capacity."
An effort to increase the deer harvest at DeSoto was made this past season, and about 438 deer were killed by hunters. A helicopter again was used last month, and 926 deer were counted.
"There was a slight decline from a year ago," Sheets said. "But we need to take more deer. We're seeing habitat damage in the form of a very distinct browse line. It looks like somebody mowed off everything up to 7 feet high."
According to the counts conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln biologists, there are 82 deer for each square mile of DeSoto.
"In this part of the country," Sheets said, "there should be about 35 deer per square mile. With the good habitat we have, we can handle about 50 per square mile. But 82 is just outrageous."
Two hunts are scheduled during October, which means archery hunters will not be allowed on the refuge those two weekends.
Of 6,000 deer tested for chronic wasting disease during the 2004 season, 29 tested positive.
For the first time, three deer outside the Panhandle tested positive - a mule deer buck near Crookston in Cherry County, a mule deer buck near Arthur in Arthur County and a whitetail buck near Grand Island in Hall County. A whitetail buck also was the first with CWD found in Deuel County.
In other action, the commissioners:
Set five public hearings for its May 6 meeting in Grand Island - to amend the list of wildlife allowed to be imported, exported, released or commercialized; hunting on Clear Creek WMA; hunting on Schilling WMA; hunting on Gifford Point WMA; annual and duplicate state park fees and driving livestock on recreational trail rights-of-way.
Approved the purchase of a 100-acre tract in Nemaha County for $50,000 to be added to the Peru Bottoms WMA.
Gave about a third of an acre at Blue Hole WMA to the Nebraska Department of Roads, which plans to widen a road. The commission will be compensated by $1,360.
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