National park culls excess deer

to save rare vegetation

Federal officials culled excess deer that were decimating vegetation at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.


Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior is comprised of 22 islands offshore of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Whitetail deer were rare on the islands until the 1950s, when the population increased on several islands. Since 2000, the deer population has exploded on two of the islands: Sand Island and York Island. The animals flourished on those islands because they feasted on Canada yew, an evergreen shrub and a remnant of hardwood forests that were widespread in the northern Great Lakes in the 1800s. Logging, development and a growing deer herd have eliminated most yew from the region’s forests. The Apostle Islands are home to some of largest remaining stands of Canada yew in the region. National Park Service officials concluded that it was necessary to kill as many deer as possible on York and Sand islands to protect the native shrubs, which can grow to eight-feet-tall. The agency in 2005 tried to thin the deer herd by extending the hunting season, but hunters didn’t kill enough of the animals. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative allowed the Park Service to bring in sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Since 2009, marksmen have killed about 150 deer on Sand Island and an estimated 30 deer on the 300-acre York Island. Continued hunting has kept deer from re-populating either of those islands.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of native habitat
  • Excessive deer population


A deer in a forest

With a large population of deer on the Apostle Islands, the rare Canada yew was being eaten faster than it could reproduce. Credit: Courtney Celley U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Results and Accomplishments

The deer cull removed a total of nearly 200 deer on Sand and York islands, which has allowed stands of Canada yew to recover.