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Parking will be limited at the Nature Center to allow for construction equipment and deliveries to be made as Acorn Acres progress continues. Additional parking is available in the north overflow parking lot (1213 Bellevue Blvd. N.).

Parking will be limited at the Nature Center to allow for construction equipment and deliveries to be made as Acorn Acres progress continues. Additional parking is available in the north overflow parking lot (1213 Bellevue Blvd. N.).

Stewarding a Healthy Forest and a Healthy Herd

article by Jim Beebe, Chief Ranger at Fontenelle Forest

Fontenelle Forest strives to care for our native habitats which includes both plants and animals that live in them. One key animal that plays a role in sculpting the landscape is our largest herbivore, the white-tailed deer.

This article looks at the history of deer at Fontenelle Forest, as well as examines why and how we manage the deer population specifically on our organization’s property. 

A picture of a deer staring into the camera.

The History of Fontenelle Forest’s Deer Herd 

Historically our area was home to black bears, wolves and mountain lions, which would have been able to regularly prey on adult deer.  

In the first half of the 20th century, the land surrounding Fontenelle Forest was settled and developed into small farms and homesteads. The increased number of humans in the area caused the deer population to become overhunted, which depleted the number of large predators.  

Eventually, hunting became more regulated, and the deer repopulated. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the size of the herd became a concern. Deer were found dead along the railroad tracks that run through Fontenelle Forest nearly every week. Car accidents caused by deer along Bellevue Boulevard were very common. The woods were left with very little of the twigs, buds and leaves that deer often “browse” for nutrition. 

Studying Fontenelle Forest’s Deer Herd 

In the 1990s, Fontenelle Forest partnered with the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to learn more about the herd. Our main concern was understanding how deer roam this area. This would tell us if additional hunting at Gifford Point Wildlife Management Area could help maintain our herd or if areas outside of normal hunting constraints needed to be considered. 

Deer were trapped and radio-collared so that their movements could be tracked and recorded. This research proved that the home ranges of our herd are small enough that increased hunting at Gifford Point alone would not be effective. Hunting or some other form of control had to be implemented at Fontenelle Forest to protect the land and the deer from degrading their own habitat. These findings led to Fontenelle Forest conducting the organization’s first controlled hunt in 1996. Annually, we continue to hold a managed deer hunt, which uses a limited number of hunters to keep deer abundant but not overpopulated.  

The Current Geography of Fontenelle Forest’s Deer Herd 

Deer can utilize many habitats and have a special affinity for the lands along the Missouri River, including Fontenelle Forest. Deer can live on the edges of wetlands, riparian areas and uplands including forest, oak woodlands, savanna, prairie, and agricultural edges.  

The Fontenelle Forest deer herd is loosely bounded by the Missouri River to the east, suburban development to the west, and mixed barriers such as highways and other city developments to the north and south. While the deer can find corridors to move in and out, travel is limited forming an island-like situation. The deer of Fontenelle Forest and surrounding lands encompass approximately seven square miles.  

The Current State of Fontenelle Forest’s Deer Herd 

Deer are a native species and have shaped our plant communities for generations. Our ecosystems need enough deer to browse the floor of the Forest. A balanced deer population provides a matrix of short and tall plants which provides habitat for many species. Currently, we have a very stable and healthy herd. The Forest has both areas in which browsing is very evident, as well as areas free of deer browse.  

The land stewardship efforts Fontenelle Forest is making with invasive species control, prescribed fire, thinning, native seeding and balancing our deer population will make for a healthy forest with healthy deer.  

Fontenelle Forest is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit.

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