Morrow Mountain deer released into new home on Cherokee lands


(The following was adapted from a media release of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.)

On Monday, 21 young white-tailed deer from Morrow Mountain State Park were released from a special four-acre compound high in the Smoky Mountains onto the Qualla Boundary, tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The deer will be carefully tracked and observed by scientists and tribal members on a special 5,130-acre natural preserve area of the reservation.

Supervisory biologist, Dr. Caleb Hickman of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fisheries and Wildlife Management Department, observes a herd of white-tailed deer reintroduced into the wild.  (Photo: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)

Supervisory biologist, Dr. Caleb Hickman observes a herd of white-tailed deer reintroduced into the wild. (Photo: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)

The release is the result of a unique wildlife relocation program – augmenting the sparse herd of the Cherokee with healthy deer from the state park. (Find the original blog about the program here.)

When the fur trade depleted the population of white-tailed deer in western North Carolina, nobody anticipated the consequences. Now, centuries later, the Cherokees who have inhabited the region for more than 10,000 years, are hoping to bring back this prized native species.

“The white tail population native to the Qualla Boundary, home to our tribe for centuries, has dwindled,” says Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, “and we are committed to restoring the population of this native species as part of our commitment to environmental preservation.”

The deer have lived in the compound since mid-January. They were carefully examined, tagged and fitted with radio collars at the state park before transfer and confinement in the holding area, prior to the “soft release” into the wild.

Morrow Mountain rangers and biologists move captured deer during collection process in January.

Morrow Mountain rangers and federal biologists move captured deer during collection process in January.

According to Hicks, this is about more than restoring the native deer population. “This is an important, cutting-edge scientific study to see if these animals will survive and proliferate. We will track and monitor them carefully and, hopefully, in a few years they will again become a viable and self-sustaining species in our mountains just as they were centuries ago.”

The Eastern Band’s Fisheries and Wildlife Management Department is supervising the deer release program in cooperation with the state parks system, the National Park Service, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the N.C. Department of Agriculture. This is the first stage of a three-year effort.

At the forefront of the replenishment project is Dr. Caleb Hickman, himself a Cherokee tribal member and the supervisory biologist on the project. “We are tracking these deer and others released earlier to determine their movement patterns, whether they will form family groups, and if they will prosper in the years ahead. Like the successful elk reintroduction that took place 12 years ago, these deer represent a stock in the future of wildlife on the Qualla Boundary.”

“We rely a lot on ‘citizen science’”, says Hickman. “People living in the area observe the deer and send us reports of their sightings. This is critical to helping us determine their whereabouts, their condition and their socialization habits. This is one of the most controlled species enhancement programs ever undertaken in North Carolina and we are learning a lot.”

By year’s end, Hickman projects that more than 50 deer will have been processed through the Cherokee program. Of those, 29 are females and many are expected to give birth to fawns following the winter breeding season, Hickman said.

Leave a comment


  1. I would love to follow a monthly blog dedicated to this project!!! Very Cool Indeed

  2. sandy speight

     /  February 26, 2014

    Thank you so much for the update on these precious animals. I have been very saddened by their move. I grew up going to the park almost every day with my Dad. As a senior adult I continue to go most days. I have taken countless photos of the deer. I suppose some that I had even named are the ones that have been relocated. I’m sure made it easy to be darted becuase they had felt so safe. My Dad taught me that we never touched anything on the park much less took anything from there. When I heard the deer were being moved I literally got sick on my stomach. To me Morrow Mountain State Park is Sacred Space. It is a sanctuary to all life there.

    • Krys

       /  May 19, 2014

      Sandy, moving some deer will actually help the population at Morrow Mountain by thinning it out and making more food available to the ones left.

  3. AC

     /  March 1, 2014

    Read Genesis

  4. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog
    loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


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