LITTLE ROCK – Historically high flooding along the Mississippi River in southeastern Arkansas has driven hungry white-tailed deer from inside levees onto valuable agricultural fields, where they have reduced crops to nubs.
“I saw 195 acres of beans gnawed to the ground,” said Dick Baxter, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Deer Program coordinator. “They were planted a month ago.”
Landowners have used devices such as rope firecrackers and propane cannons to frighten deer from fields before, but since May 1, explosives have been harder to come by. The U.S. Department of Justice now requires a license to use rope firecrackers, but obtaining the license is a lengthy process. The Mississippi River is expected to be high for weeks.
“This is a problem that nobody’s dealt with to this magnitude,” said Mark Hooks, an AGFC biologist based in Monticello. “One of the challenges for us is people could use rope firecrackers (during flooding) in 2008. It was less of an issue then. We don’t have that at our disposal now.”
Although landowners can’t use rope firecrackers without a license, AGFC personnel are authorized to use the devices if qualified or affected landowners make a request. The firecrackers and cannons produce periodic explosions that surprise and frighten deer. But even after jarring blasts, deer tend to acclimate to loud noises, and that’s when depredation permits become necessary.
As of May 23, nine depredation permits had been issued by the AGFC in Chicot County and four in Desha County. A single permit has been issued for Arkansas County. Records show that 120 deer had been taken in Chicot County, 17 deer had been taken in Desha County and four deer in Arkansas County – a total of 141.
“There’s a perception that a lot of deer are being taken and that’s simply not true,” Hooks said. “Stress can kill some of these deer when they are driven by floodwaters.”
Another method used to keep displaced deer from destroying crops is feeding them to draw them away from crops. Corn, which is popular deer feed, is not the right type of feed for deer this time of year, and it can attract unwanted animals such as feral pigs. Even if the right feed is used, “It’s hard to lure deer away from young bean plants,” Hooks said. “The hard reality is a few deer are going to be killed.”
AGFC biologists and wildlife officers will continue to monitor the movement of deer from the ground and from the air.