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UND student to lead deer research project

Jay Boulanger, UND assistant professor of wildlife ecology and human dimensions.1 / 3
Gunnar Patz, a junior UND Fisheries and Wildlife Biology major, will use his $5,000 Challenge grant to study deer populations and potential control methods in the Grand Forks Greenway. (Photo courtesy of UND)2 / 3
A small herd of deer bed down in a wooded area in East Grand Forks in February 2019. A UND student has received a $5,000 Main Street GF Challenge grant to learn more about deer populations and options for population control in the Grand Forks Greenway. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

GRAND FORKS -- A UND Fisheries and Wildlife Biology student has received a $5,000 grant through the Main Street GF Challenge to learn more about deer populations in the Grand Forks Greenway and how to keep those numbers in check within city limits.

Gunnar Patz will work with Jay Boulanger, a UND assistant professor of wildlife ecology and human dimensions, and Greenway coordinator Kim Greendahl to develop the research project, which is in its early stages.

The Challenge grant is a local offshoot of Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative to improve cities and attract a “21st century workforce” across North Dakota.

A junior from Coleman, Wis., Patz said he applied and interviewed for the competitive grant in mid-January and learned he was among the funding recipients a couple of days later. He applied for the grant as a project in his Communicating Science course, a new class at UND in which students learn to communicate science to the public without getting bogged down in jargon lay people don’t understand.

Patz was one of six Challenge grant recipients, along with UND students Drew Blake, Tyler Larson, George Paul and Maura Ferguson, and Central High School senior Thomas Hoffarth.

“I really didn’t think I was going to be accepted,” Patz said. “I think this is an amazing opportunity for me to get a sense of real world urban deer management or just management practices in general, because we have to work with stakeholders and professors and professionals to come together with the best plan of action to help regulate these populations.”

Patz and Boulanger will meet Tuesday, Feb. 18, with the Greenway Technical Committee to discuss possible directions for the research project, along with options and costs for mitigating deer numbers.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for an undergraduate student, and I would even say it’s an extraordinary opportunity,” Boulanger said. “The $5,000 award is a significant amount of money for an undergraduate to conduct research.”

Boulanger, who also is a member of the Greenway Technical Committee, works with the group on wildlife- and fisheries-related issues within the Greenway. Before coming to UND, he spent seven years working on urban deer management and population control issues at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

“This kind of work is something I continue to do,” Boulanger said. “I really do enjoy this type of work and trying to come up with solutions that will help a majority of the public when dealing with overabundant deer populations.”

Deer numbers within the Greenway are a concern, Boulanger said, but the committee last year decided to collect more information -- whether it be numbers on deer-vehicle collisions, depredation complaints or other related problems -- before developing an action plan.

“We were going to meet again this spring anyway, so the timing of this really worked out,” Boulanger said. “Because Gunnar won this money, it seemed like a good time to get back into that conversation.”

First up, he said, will be developing a postcard survey that will be mailed to Grand Forks residents who live next to the Greenway to gather opinions on deer populations and potential mitigation methods, such as a controlled archery hunt, for reducing those numbers.

Boulanger said he also will share information with the technical committee about controlled archery deer hunts in Fargo and Bismarck that have been successful at reducing deer numbers in the two cities. Besides being the least expensive option compared with techniques, such as sterilization or sharpshooting, an archery hunt has other benefits, he said.

“It might not reduce as many deer as sharpshooting, but it gives sportsmen and women more opportunities for hunting in the area,” Boulanger said. “So, it could be a win-win for these sportsmen and women and city officials, given the success that we’ve seen in Bismarck and Fargo.”

Sampling deer numbers to get a handle on the actual population within the Greenway also will be part of the project, Boulanger said, whether it be with copter drones, spotlight counts or some other survey method.

Regardless of how the study unfolds, the result will be more information about deer in the Greenway and keeping the population within a level that’s manageable, given the site’s urban setting.

“This would be new information to be learned on the Greenway, to be sure,” Boulanger said. “We couldn’t be more happy for Gunnar getting this award. It’s coming at a good time when we can pool resources between that award and resources that the Greenway Technical Committee and other city officials might have, to help us in this investigation.

“We’re really excited to have our first meeting and see what the possibilities are in moving forward.”

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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