For approximately ten years, from 2000 through 2009, the City managed its deer population by means of sharpshooting through White Buffalo, Inc., a professional conservation and wildlife management organization. In 2010, the City determined deer population numbers were at a reasonable level and ceased the sharp shoot program. In the years following, the deer population again increased alongside resident complaints and deer/vehicle accidents.

A memo summarizing the City’s deer management efforts from 1996 until 2010 is available here. Below is a summary of the response to that pattern, including the development, adoption, and implementation of a five-year deer management plan

Plan Development

January 2018: White Buffalo Inc., a professional conservation and wildlife management group, conducted a survey which found the urban deer population was nearly triple what it was ten years prior.

February 2018: City Council information packet included several attachments including: a deer management memo, history of deer management memo, summary of White Buffalo Inc. 2010 culling results, a 2017 memo of deer complaints and accidents, and the results from White Buffalo Inc.’s deer population survey conducted in January 2018.  

March 2018: City Council held a work session at which they reviewed deer management memo included in the February 15th information packet and directed staff to gather public input.

April 2018: After receiving City Council direction to request permission from the Iowa Natural Resources Commission, staff sent the first letter requesting approval of a special deer harvest plan to cull the deer herd in the upcoming winter by means of professional sharpshooting.

May 2018: The Iowa Natural Resources Commission reviewed Iowa City’s request and denied it as presented. The NRC recommended the City form a committee to review and discuss the NRC’s comments and concerns, increase resident engagement, and then return with a revised proposal.

August - September 2018: As recommended by both Council and the NRC, a deer committee was formed which consisted of both city staff and community members. This committee held a public forum on August 14, 2018, at which approximately 60 members of the public attended and a wide range of opinions were expressed. A video of those proceedings can be found here. Following the forum, the committee issued a memo summarizing the results of community input, and concluded that most of the comments favored acting soon to control the deer population.

Additionally, staff created a city webpage to provide the public with information on deer management and additional opportunities to provide input for those who chose not to attend the public forum.

October 2018:  After considering public input and options, City staff sent a second letter to the NRC, which outlined the city’s revised proposal.

December 2018: The NRC considered this proposal at their December 13 meeting and denied the request.

January – February 2019: Following this decision, the NRC Chairperson sent a letter to Iowa City officials and staff also began communicating with Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff. These conversations revealed the NRC would likely approve professionally contracted sharpshooting for one year to decrease the deer population to an NRC-approved density level if some form of public hunt is used for the remainder of a five-year plan. The City’s version of a plan would also include public education and annual counts of the deer population.

March – May 2019: City staff coordinated with City Council over the course of several work sessions and formal meetings to make progress on a deer management plan. A March 6, 2019 memo and associated exhibits provides background on staff’s communication with the state agencies, and an April 17, 2019 memo seeking Council direction on the development of a plan.

At the City Council meeting on April 23, 2019, Council directed staff to draft a 5-year deer management plan which consists of professional sharpshooting in year one, followed by four years of non-lethal management efforts.

June – July 2019: City Council adopted a five-year deer management plan at their June 18, 2019 meeting. Request for approval of this plan was also on the agenda for the NRC’s July 11, 2019 meeting, but the motion failed. Commissioners recommended re-evaluating the deer per square mile, confirming the timeframe for the bow hunt, strengthening some language and include an annual deer density evaluation tool.

Plan Adoption

August 2019: City staff made updates to the five-year plan based on the NRC’s comments at their July 2019 meeting. On August 6, 2019, City Council adopted a resolution approving this plan and rescinding their prior resolution adopted in July. The NRC approved the City’s plan at their August 8, 2019 meeting, which included authorization to join in a contract with White Buffalo, Inc. for the first year for the first year of sharpshooting.

The final plan included one year (Winter 2019-2020) of professional sharpshooting, four years (Fall/Winter 2020 – 2024) of urban bow hunting, annual monitoring and evaluation of the deer population and plan efficacy, and ongoing non-lethal deer activities and education.

Plan Implementation – Year 1: Professional Sharpshooting

December 2019: The Deer Management Project kicked off the 2019-2020 season with White Buffalo, Inc. carrying out the first round of sharpshooting in eight City parks, from December 1 to December 22, 2019, from 3 p.m. to dawn each day.

February - March 2020: The second round of the 2019-2020 sharpshooting was carried out by White Buffalo Inc. in seven City parks, from February 23 to March 15, 2020, from 3 p.m. to dawn each day.

After the 2019-2020 season, White Buffalo Inc. reported 500 deer were harvested by their professional sharpshooters. An estimated 30,000 pounds of meat from the deer was tested for safety by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and then processed and donated to the CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank in Iowa City. A full report from White Buffalo Inc. on the 2019-2020 deer cull is available here.

Plan Implementation – Year 2: Urban Bow-Hunt

May 2020: The City submitted an application to the NRC requesting approval of an urban bow hunt under the following parameters: (a) Hunt to occur from October 1, 2020 to January 10, 2021; (b) hunt limited to private property; and (c) hunt limited to 74 antlerless deer. The NRC approved the application at its June meeting

August 2020: City staff met with members of the Iowa City Deer Friends to receive feedback and incorporate their input into the rules for the bow hunt.

September 2020: City Council adopted an ordinance which prohibits the intentional feeding of deer. City Council also adopted rules for an Urban Bow Hunt for the 2020 - 2021 season. Over the course of four City Council meetings, Councilors heard public input on the bow hunt and deer management.

On September 24, 2020, the Iowa City Deer Friends filed a lawsuit against the City, alleging the urban bow hunt is illegal and requesting an immediate stay of the bow hunt program. The district court's initial ruling denied the stay and the final ruling (February 2021) rejected all claims of alleged illegality and dismissed the lawsuit.

October 2020: Hunter applications were accepted during a twenty-day window and the 2020-2021 bow hunt season began on October 1, 2020. In total, five hunters applied and were accepted for the hunt. All hunters held a valid DNR Hunting License, completed the required qualifications at Fin & Feather, and submitted the appropriate paperwork with the City regarding their hunt locations.

Post-Season Results: Iowa City's bow hunt season ended on January 10, 2021. A total of 14 tags were purchased between the five approved hunters. Of those tags, three deer were harvested. All deer were harvested on private property per the hunt rules. No incentive buck tags were earned in Iowa City during this hunt. On January 27, 2021, the Iowa DNR conducted an aerial deer survey in Iowa City. The estimated average deer density was 14.04 deer peer square mile across all zones, with 44.27 deer per square mile the highest estimated density for a single zone of all zones surveyed.

Review a summary of all non-lethal deer management activities, results of the 2020 - 2021 urban bow hunt, and 2021 DNR Aerial Survey results in the City's 2020 - 2021 Deer Management Annual Report.

Plan Implementation – Year 3: Urban Bow-Hunt

April 2021: Following the 2020-2021 Bow Hunt season, the regional Wildlife/Depredation Biologist from the Iowa DNR reviewed the hunt results and determined the amount harvested would not be sufficient to maintain deer population management goals in Iowa City. Feedback was provided that the City's hunting quote and participation rates were not aligned with past professional sharpshooting events conducted by White Buffalo and recommendations to improve effectiveness of the hunt was provided.

July 2021: Staff provided a memo to City Council on the planned 2021-2022 Bow Hunt Program. The memo outlined minor changes to the program, based upon the DNR's recommendations, including increasing the quote from 75 deer to 200 deer, lengthening the season by two weeks to align with the state and DMZs across Iowa, and opening the application earlier to provide interested hunters time to apply.

September - November 2021: Applications were accepted during a three month window. Four hunters applied and were accepted. All hunters held a valid DNR Hunting License, completed the required qualifications at Fin & Feather, and submitted the appropriate paperwork with the City regarding their hunt locations. The Bow Hunt season began on September 18, 2021.

City Government