Ohio's whitetail deer make a pretty sight in fields and forests, but the state also is teeming with coyotes, bobcats and black bears.

They're all of special interest to Kendra Wecker of Sunbury, the new chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife.

Wecker has worked for ODNR for 26 years, following an internship in 1992. She became the division's first female chief Jan. 19, appointed by new ODNR Director Mary Mertz, who was named by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The division of wildlife's No. 1 goal, Wecker said, is "to make wildlife populations plentiful and stable," and to help facilitate the public's enjoyment of wildlife. That wildlife includes all of the state's native fish and animals -- and even the insects -- of which only 15 percent of the species are hunted or trapped, she said.

Not only are deer one of Ohio's most visible wildlife species; they also command one of the division's most extensive management efforts in the form of annual hunting seasons.

Using both archery gear and firearms, hunters harvested 172,000 deer during the 2018-19 season.

Replacing those animals before next fall won't be a problem, Wecker said, because deer are plentiful and reproduce quickly, even in urban areas.

"Deer are highly adaptable, and they are doing very well in urban areas," she said. "Why would they not want to live there? There's this great landscaping there to eat."

Many does give birth to twins, she said, which frequently happens when deer have enough to eat.

"There's lots of good vegetation in landscaping. They can make do," Wecker said. "It's amazing how they can thrive."

Unlike their rural cousins, urban deer face less pressure from natural predators, particularly coyotes.

"We do have coyotes in every county," Wecker said, but in terms of controlling deer numbers, "Fords and Chevys are more impactful, unfortunately, on the roadways than the coyotes are on the urban deer, from what we've seen."

The state's growth and development have made urban deer more common, she said, but also have posed challenges for hunters the division relies on to keep deer numbers in check.

More and more Ohioans are leaving rural areas for towns and cities, she said, "and when they leave rural areas, they're not returning. ... When Grandpa and Grandma pass on, there's no one really to pass the farm on to. So the farm is sold. It's getting broken up into pieces. So for people who used to be able to hunt on a big large farm, ... access to that farm is no longer there."

It's the division of wildlife's goal to provide hunters access to property where they can hunt "and expand those hunting opportunities," Wecker said.

Some cities, such as Gahanna, have programs that allow archery hunting for deer, she said. That's a cheaper alternative than paid sharpshooters some cities have hired in the past to contain deer numbers, she said.

The division supports such efforts as Gahanna's, she said, and promotes deer as "a good protein source. ... It's healthy," and hunting "is a good way to put food in the freezer."

The division also accredits safety courses offered statewide for first-time hunters and encourages experienced hunters to take a friend with them to introduce them to hunting and teach them.

"Traditions are not being passed along, and we'd like to help," she said.

While not seen as frequently as deer, black bears command attention when they are spotted. They wander over large sections of Ohio, Wecker said.

Most bears in Ohio are young males, recently separated from their mothers, who have traveled from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, she said.

The bruins can cover surprisingly long distances as they seek new areas for themselves, particularly in July, she said.

Bears have been seen close to Columbus, and the southern part of the state has some reproducing females, she said. Bears are protected in Ohio and cannot be hunted.

Coyotes, by comparison, are plentiful and can be hunted year-round, except during deer gun season.

Coyotes are nocturnal; compared to deer, hunters take only small numbers of coyotes. That's fine with the division of wildlife, Wecker said, because "you need that predator on the landscape."

Another predator seen even less frequently than coyotes are bobcats, which roam in Delaware County.

In addition to fish and wildlife management, the department of natural resources operates the Delaware Wildlife Area rifle range on state Route 229, which has been closed for two years for renovation.

Wecker attributed the delay to clearing renovation plans with the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the property. The range is expected to reopen at least by 2020, she said.

The division also offers a wide range of educational publications on the state's wild animals, Wecker said, which are listed at tinyurl.com/dowpubs.

Wecker was the division's wildlife diversity coordinator before becoming the information and education executive administrator in 2016.

Wecker's husband is Delaware attorney Andrew Wecker. The couple have five children, two of whom are Big Walnut High School graduates.

The family has lived in Sunbury since 2006.

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