Iowa City deer management continues to draw controversy among residents

Iowa City will be managing the deer population through 2025 — first through sharpshooting, and later through a bow hunt.


Ryan Adams

A pair of deer stand along the riverbank of the Iowa River north of Iowa City on June 11, 2019.

Rylee Wilson, Politics Reporter

Contracted sharpshooters will begin killing deer this winter as part of a plan to mitigate traffic accidents and property damage caused by Iowa City’s rising deer population — though the solution is not without its critics.

After two years of contentious debate, the Iowa City City Council approved the Iowa City Deer Population Management Project in July 2019. As part of the plan, outside management company White Buffalo Inc. will sharpshoot deer in blocked-off parks across Iowa City, including in wooded areas on the University of Iowa campus, throughout the winter season.

The sharpshooting will take place through the early months of 2020. For the next four years, 2021-2025, the deer will be managed by bow hunt, which will not be conducted by professionals, but by recreational hunters who apply for licenses.

Iowa City managed deer through sharpshooting from 2000 to 2010, according to Bill Campbell, director of field operations for the Iowa City police, at which point deer populations were at stable levels.

Iowa City is the only city in Iowa to have sharpshooting approved as a method of population control, he added.

Previous deer-management hunts in Iowa City took place on private land — but those properties were no longer available, so the city turned to using public lands to cull deer and sharpshoot.


Charles Bray, a ranger for the Johnson County Conservation Board, said public outcry over deer management in Iowa City has been controversial for years.

Bray works at Kent Park, 15 miles west of Iowa City. He said the deer population within the park have been managed, either by sharpshooting or bow hunting, since 1999.

In Kent Park, deer shooting is open to selected licensed hunters, while the sharpshooting in Iowa City is managed by White Buffalo.

Bray said deer populations both in Iowa and across the Midwest are so high because natural predators for deer, including wolves and mountain lions, are no longer found within the region.

“These deer, for a long time, had natural predators and millions of acres to roam and it’s all been altered,” Bray said. “Deer are very adaptive — they’ll live in a neighborhood just fine, but it comes at a cost.”

RELATED: Deer-management program to allow sharpshooting in Iowa City parks to decrease deer population

Bray said the main issue with deer overpopulation, besides increased traffic accidents and damage to private property, is the strain herds place on native species and natural resources.

Although bowhunting is cheaper than sharpshooting, Campbell said many community members were concerned the bowhunting would lead to a more painful death for the deer.

“Iowa City was not a community that was excited about having bowhunting going on within the city limits,” he said.

Campbell said the sharpshooting is expensive — with winter 2020’s sharpshooting session costing around $250,000.

One group upset by the City Council’s decision to sharpshoot and bow hunt deer is the Iowa City Deer Friends.

While the sharpshooting part of the plan is already underway, the group says it hopes to reverse the bowhunting set to occur in the future.

The resolution the City Council adopted includes a commitment to “provide, consider, and develop” nonlethal tools for deer management, including deer-proof fencing, deer-vehicle accident awareness and prevention and providing additional education materials about deer.

Florence Boos, an Iowa City resident since 1973 and a member of Deer Friends, said she enjoys seeing deer near her home by Hickory Hill Park, where she has lived since 1999.

Boos said sterilization is an option the Deer Friends would like to see the city explore.

“In my view, it seems to me that the problem is exaggerated. However, I’m willing to accept that for many people, it’s a huge problem when a deer eats a part of a plant,” Boos said. “Not only are there methods of dealing with these matters to the extent that they can be dealt with, other cities have used sterilization and contraception for deer.”

Bray said he is not personally aware of cases where sterilization of deer has been effective with a deer population as large as Iowa City’s.

Campbell said he receives complaints about bowhunting on a daily basis.

“There are dozens and dozens of communities that do that [bowhunt] every year and have for years,” he said. “I think in Iowa City, there probably are more folks that disagree with it on a philosophical level than in other communities.”