Morrow Mountain State Park participated in a long-term project to relocate white-tailed deer from the park to reservation lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on Thursday.
Partners in the initiative are the state parks system, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, biologists from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management program.
The agencies intend to augment the reservation's sparse population of white-tailed deer, an animal that figures prominently in Cherokee lore and cultural traditions. The deer will be gradually released onto the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary, in habitat improved for browsing and currently off-limits to hunting.
In each of the next three years, between 25 and 50 deer will be relocated, primarily females in small family groups. Initial collections will begin in January, with biologists using darts to tranquilize the animals, collecting data on age and health and fitting each with a tag and radio collar. The deer will be kept in a large pen on the reservation and closely monitored for about four weeks before being released.
"We're pleased that the state park can fulfill this request for white-tailed deer on the Cherokee reservation in a way that's consistent with wise natural resource management," said Carol Tingley, acting director for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.