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Fort Yargo considers deer hunt

WINDER - There's a ring around Fort Yargo State Park. It goes about four-and-a-half feet off the ground, and in those four-and-a-half feet, it's hard to see green.

That's because the park's deer have been eating and eating - and eating, until they ran out of things to eat.

Park Manager Eric Bentley said the browse lines, as they are known, indicate that the deer no longer have food in the park.

"They've eaten all the way up that a deer can reach," he said. "They've eaten everything that's green up to the four-and-a-half foot mark. They're literally starving to death."

Bentley said there are more than 80 deer per square mile in the park, which has become an island among construction in Winder. Normal density is between 20 and 25 deer per square mile.

The Department of Natural Resources will consider allowing hunters into the park for two days each in November and January to help cull the deer population. A public hearing outlining the proposal will be held at the Will-A-Way Camp April 20.

Bentley said the plan would allow as many as 65 hunters into the park each of those four days. He hopes 100 deer would be killed during each hunt.

Hunters would be encouraged to donate the meat to an organization called Hunters for the Hungry, Bentley said.

"There's way too many," he said. "It's a win-win situation."

According to the Department of Natural Resources, deer in the park had over-browsed so much that some plant species would not be able to regenerate. Roads bordering the park have a number of deer-car collisions each year.

Bentley said the deer population has soared because the hunting pressure from nearby landowners has diminished, and the animals have continued to breed. If they starve to death, he said, disease will begin to spread through the population.

Controlled hunting has been allowed since 2003. The first public hunt, at Red Top Mountain State Park in Cartersville, successfully reduced the number of deer while improving the herd's health, the agency said. Similar hunts have also been successful at Hard Labor Creek and Richard B. Russell state parks.

IF YOU GO

•What: Public comment period on a proposal to hunt deer in Fort Yargo State Park

•When: 7 p.m. April 20

•Where: Will-A-Way Camp, Fort Yargo State Park, 210 S. Broad St. Winder

•For more information: call 770-867-3489 or visit www.GaStateParks.org