Iowa's Resilient White-Tailed Deer and How They Came Back from Near Extinction

Nov 9, 2015

There was a time when it was a rare treat to spot a white-tailed deer in Iowa.  That treat is no longer rare.  Today, it's our monthly Wildlife Day on Talk of Iowa, with wildlife biologist Dr. Jim Pease of Ames.  Jim tells us about the history of deer in the Hawkeye State, their place in the environment and our complicated relationship with them.

It's a history you might be surprised to learn about.  Jim tells us that white-tailed deer were very plentiful in Iowa in the days before European settlement, but by about 1900 the Iowa deer had disappeared.  In fact there were only about 300,000 deer in the entire country at that time.  Fortunately, deer did not go the way of the Passenger Pigeon.  Conservationists pushed Congress to enact laws to preserve the remaining deer, even though the laws were not much enforced.

It took the effort of Iowan J.N."Ding" Darling, the head of the U.S. Biological Survey under President Franklin Roosevelt, to get U.S. marshals to enforce the deer preservation laws.  Jim says this did the trick and deer herds rebounded to about 10,000 in Iowa by 1953, when the first legal harvest in the 20th century was held in the state.  Deer have had a "field day" since then, due, Jim says, to their unpicky eating habits, as they can consume over 350 species of plants and love our current Iowa crops.   Now, Jim says, Iowa has the healthiest and largest deer in the country.