First, let me introduce myself. I am an interpretative naturalist at Wehr Nature Center and have helped to coordinate the Whitnall Deer control program since its' beginning in 1995. Prior to joining the Milwaukee County Parks (MCP) in 1992, I completed my master's research at UW-Milwaukee on urban deer in River Hills here in Milwaukee County monitoring a program where urban deer were captured and released into rural, wildlife areas. After all these years, deer are still my favorite critters to see and I completely understand how much visitors to the park enjoy watching them! That said, as a naturalist I understand the impact white-tails have on their environment and the importance of managing the land for all species.
In 1995 the Milwaukee County parks began the process of developing a management program for Whitnall Park's large herd of white-tailed deer. Herd sized was measured via helicopter counts, damage was quantified by looking a browse damage to the forests, area car-deer collisions were tallied and a financial accounting was made to assess damage to plantings at Boerner. It was decided that reducing and managing the size of the deer population was needed to protect the natural areas in Whitnall as well as to protect plantings at Boerner. MCP staff worked with UW-Extensions wildlife experts, and WI DNR biologists, as well as contacting parks in Chicago where similar issues existed. We held three public hearings that were attended by over 300 people, and the issue was widely covered in the local media. After much discussion and input it was decided that a culling program using professional sharpshooters was the most humane, safe, and efficient way to decrease/manage the herd. At the time, we were the first municipality in the Milwaukee area to use sharpshooters; it is now the primary method being used to control urban deer populations in Wisconsin. Knowing that some areas of the gardens required extra protection, Parks invested over $10,000 in fencing off the Trial Gardens. We continue to invest staff time and money to apply deer repellents, in addition to the annual culling program.
Our program has a 100% safety record over the last 25 years. We do not remove a large number of deer each year; the average is 8 or less. All meat generated is donated to a local food pantry. Priority is given to removing does, but occasionally an antler-less buck is taken. Sharpshooters are always asked to remove injured or ill appearing animals first. Since the early 2000's MCP has applied for and received Urban Wildlife Abatement grants from the Wisconsin DNR which has provided funds to pay for the cost of the program, so county tax dollars are not used.
I hope this has answered some of your questions. Please reach out to me by email if you have further questions or concerns.
Milwaukee County Parks
T: (414) 425-8550