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2012 outbreak still hurting deer harvest

2012 outbreak still hurting deer harvest

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The 2013 Nebraska deer harvest is down, due for the most part to one of the worst outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease ever to hit the state.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is spread by midges, small flies that thrive during drought. The state could only estimate the impact of EHD, guessing that a third of the state’s deer population was wiped out in the summer of 2012.

“We had not had an outbreak like this in 40 years,” said Kit Hams, big game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “It’s probably the worst (outbreak) to ever hit the U.S.”

The total firearm deer harvest for the nine-day November firearm season was 36,882, a 21 percent decline from 2012.

Hams predicts that about 50,000 deer will be harvested this year. Nebraska hunters harvested a record 88,000 deer in 2011 and about 60,000 last year.

“It’s taken us back to when the deer war started in 1996-97,” Hams said.

Deer war?

Since 1996 and leading into the 2012 season, the commission tried its best to lower deer numbers. State habitat was unable to sustain the population, so the commission set out to offer programs such as bonus doe tags and “earn a buck.”

Nothing seemed to work. Populations continued to climb, frustrating wildlife biologists.

EHD wiped out many of the deer that the state would have liked to see eliminated, but it wasn’t even across the state, which is what the commission was trying to accomplish.

“Some people still have too many deer,” Hams said, “and some have few or none.”

Hams suggests that in areas most affected by EHD, hunters cut back on the harvest of does. He has predicted populations will rebound in a few years if does are given the opportunity to breed.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission eliminated about 87,000 permits and bonus tags in 2013 in response to the EHD outbreak of 2012. A significant reduction in harvest was expected.

Deer season remains open through Jan. 18.

Marketing grants awarded

The Game and Parks Commission has awarded nine grants totaling $100,000 in the 2013-14 Outdoor Recreation Marketing Grant Program.

The program is for communities, groups, organizations, public-private partnerships, nongovernment agencies or political subdivisions in need of help in promoting outdoor recreation.

Fort Atkinson, in Fort Calhoun, was the only state park to receive a grant. Julie Ashton, a board member of the Fort Atkinson Foundation who has worked closely with officials at the historical park, wrote the grant and has been instrumental in bringing renewed attention to the historical attraction.

“Most people driving through town do not even know this significant historic site is there,” she said. “The goal is to create more recognition and eye-catching directional signage through the town.”

The Game and Parks Commission is funding the largest portion of the project, the town of Fort Calhoun has contributed money, and local businesses and volunteers have pledged their time and resources.

“It is truly a combined effort, hopefully the first of other public/private partnerships the park will be pursuing,” Ashton said.

Grant awards:

» Dawes County Travel Board, Northwest Identity and Map, $3,787.

» Fort Atkinson Foundation, Fort Atkinson Sign Enhancement Project, $14,910.

» Kearney Visitors Bureau, 2013 Crane Watch Marketing Campaign, $17,400.

» Kearney Visitors Bureau, 2014 Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo Marketing Campaign, $14,475.

» Keith County Visitors Committee, Lake McConaughy Outdoor Recreation Promotion, $11,250.

» Middle Missouri River Lewis and Clark Network, Welcome to Lewis and Clark Country Parks Campaign, $7,118.

» Nebraska Rural Living, Mobilize, $6,210.

» Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway Birding Promotion, $19,910.

» Southwest Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development District, Prairie Chicken Dance Tours, $4,940.

“Outdoor recreation in Nebraska already has an annual economic impact of $2.4 billion,” Game and Parks Director Jim Douglas said. “These awards will allow the recipients to promote their outdoor amenities and recreational opportunities, which stimulate tourism, economic development and recruit more people to become active outdoors.”

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