ROCHESTER - After years of concerns over deer overpopulation, Rochester city officials are set to cull some of the herd.
Rochester will host its first deer archery hunt in local parks next month after more than a year of discussion over how best to deal with the four-legged menaces.
Over 200 deer-related vehicle accidents were reported in Rochester in 2021, which city officials say isn't out of the ordinary.
"There's been an ongoing issue of deer-vehicle incidents over the years," said Mike Nigbur, Rochester's park and forestry division head. "It's not a one- or two-year issue that's increasing. It is a continual issue that we've had over decades."
Rochester isn't alone in its deer woes, as urban areas across the state have struggled for years with deer. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is in the midst of setting deer population goals across the state, which is expected to wrap up next year.
The DNR set goals for southeast Minnesota this year after gathering input from hunters and landowners over the past winter and spring. DNR officials expect to keep local deer population about the same over the next decade, as hunters largely thought there were too few deer and landowners thought there were too many.
As their natural environment dwindles, deer have adapted to rural and urban areas. They can strip parks and neighborhoods of vegetation through overeating, cause potential traffic crashes and spread Lyme's disease, among other public health concerns.
Rochester Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman told the Rochester City Council in May there were confirmed reports of deer spreading COVID-19 to humans, which was a factor in the city's decision to move forward with a hunt.
Widman also said deer are affecting the city's parks system, stripping vegetation and driving other species out of the area as a result. In Indian Heights Park, residents recently tried to restore native grasses in the area — until the deer got hold of it.
"That is a common complaint that we have from neighbors," Widman said at the time.
Cities across the state have enacted hunts over the years to control the deer population, with several communities — Mankato, Duluth and St. Cloud among them — starting hunts in the early to mid-2000s.
"They have their own suite of challenges that aren't necessarily addressed by hunting season at times," said Brandon Schad, a DNR area wildlife supervisor in southeast Minnesota.
In Rochester, hunters can harvest deer at 11 parks over the deer archery season starting Sept. 17. The Rochester Archery Club is organizing the hunt, which requires hunters to be at least 18 years old, take state bowhunting education courses and pass a proficiency test, among other things.
Jeff Lien, the club's vice president, said five hunters have applied. Club members and city officials don't expect many deer to be harvested in the fall, but they're looking forward to starting the process without affecting residents.
"The main thing is trying to keep everybody happy," Lien said. "Give the hunters a chance to hunt some deer and reduce the population in the city without impacting the rest of the community who may or may not be using the parks."