Deer poachers would face smaller fines under legislation that advanced in the Iowa Legislature Wednesday.
Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said he introduced Senate File 464 because his southeast Iowa district has too many deer, as do some other parts of the state.
The bill would reduce the civil penalty for poaching antlerless deer to $50 from $1,500. Rozenboom said he is likely to offer an amendment to set the penalty at $200 or so rather than $50. He added that poachers would still face scheduled fines of several hundred dollars in addition to the civil penalty.
The current $1,500 fine exceeds some of the penalties for harming or killing an endangered species, which is excessive, Rozenboom said. “I don’t think that is logical at all,” he added.
“It’s evident that we have a deer overpopulation problem, at least in some counties in southern Iowa,” Rozenboom said. “I think we do around the state …”
Part of the bill would retroactively negate fines for offenses on or after July 1, 2020. However, Rozenboom said that section was “a mistake” and will be removed through amendment later.
The bill would lower the cost of “depredation licenses” that allow extra hunting on properties heavily damaged by deer, to $2 from $13. Some licenses for landowners to hunt their own land are free.
The bill also would require the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to do a deer population study and to assess environmental and crop damage by the animals.
Rozenboom said the current programs aren’t controlling the herd, in his opinion.
“The DNR’s target in Appanoose County this past year was to have 2,700 deer taken, but only 2,200 deer were taken,” Rozenboom said.
Farmers often complain about deer damaging crops, and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday. Deer-vehicle collisions also are common in Iowa.
“Our members believe that Iowa should pursue a smaller overall deer population,” Farm Bureau lobbyist Matthew Steinfeldt told a legislative subcommittee. “We believe this bill will help Iowa’s landowners and farmers better be able to protect their properties.”
Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said Iowa has deer problems, but the bill goes too far.
“I agree with Sen. Rozenboom that we do have a problem with deer in some areas, and the depredation on a lot of farmers’ ground is pretty bad,” Dotzler said.
But lowering the civil fine to $50 would invite poachers from around Iowa and beyond to take Iowa deer with little fear of significant penalty, Dotzler added. Conservation groups said they have similar concerns.
Dotzler said he is concerned about language that would encourage the use of high-powered rifles after regular seasons end to thin the herd if DNR quotas have not been met.
Dotzler said when he lived near New Hartford, he and his wife once had to take cover behind a wood pile as hunters with rifles shot at a moving deer herd they had surrounded in a section nearby. The Dotzlers heard shots, but were uninjured.
“I’d see these guys out there with their high-powered weapons and they think they’re Rambo,” Dotzler said, referring to the movies about a military veteran played by Sylvester Stallone.
Fred Long, president of the Iowa Conservation Alliance, said the Legislature should be careful about reducing the deer herd, especially when much of it is found on private land not accessible to the average hunter.
DNR moved to reduce the herd beginning in the 1990s, when hunters sometimes killed 120,000 deer a year, Long said. That number now is closer to 110,000 a year.
Lobbyist John Cacciatore said state conservation officers are concerned about reducing the fines and the language retroactively eliminating penalties for illegally selling, taking, catching, killing, injuring, destroying, or possessing antlerless deer.
Eric Goranson, lobbyist for the Iowa Bowhunters Association and Pheasants Forever, said his clients oppose the bill. “We do understand that there are pockets of the state that may have issues,” but current DNR programs work well to manage the herd, Goranson said.
The reduced fines would invite trouble, Goranson said. “One of our main concerns is it would be very easy to roll the dice and just start slaughtering deer, knowing that if you only get caught every few years it might be cheaper to do that than under the current language.”
The bill advanced to the full Senate Ways and Means Committee.