Oh Deer! What To Do?
There is nothing more heart warming than seeing a white-tailed deer in your yard. Unless of course you see too many deer, night after night, eating the vegetables in your garden. For those of us who do not have gardens and enjoy seeing the deer, we must remember that feeding deer puts them at risk of developing disease due to attracting larger numbers to a small area. These diseases include bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis and chronic wasting disease — AND feeding deer is illegal.
Female deer normally have their first fawn when they are just a bit over a year old. Sometimes though, if food is plentiful, they can have a fawn, when they are as young as six-months-old. Young does typically have one fawn, while older does have twins and occasionally triplets. With favorable circumstances, does can produce two or three fawns every year, and populations can increase quickly.
As the human population has increased, so too has the deer population. At the turn of the twentieth century the deer population was low due to over harvesting for food and hides, and loss of habitat. Over time, we have instituted hunting regulations, changed our agricultural practices and have begun to conserve woodland. These changes have allowed the deer population to increase.
Along with an increase in deer population there is a corresponding increase in human/deer conflicts. Those vegetables that are eaten by white-tailed deer in your garden are only a very small part of the problem. Deer can cause large economic losses for farmers. A USDA survey conducted in 1992 sites 40 percent of farmers reporting substantial deer damage.
Our forests suffer with an overabundance of deer. Many of us have seen deer browse lines, where everything is eaten within reach. This can create a forest in which only trees that deer dislike are surviving, with no understory of bushes, herbs, and tree seedlings. The result could be a forest that may not be able to replace itself naturally. Deer over-browsing also makes way for alien invasive plants to be more easily established. Deer prefer native species and will avoid alien plants such as kudzu, oriental bittersweet, Japanese honey suckle, mile-a-minute vine, garlic mustard and Japanese stilt grass, giving them an easy way to establishment.
With a forest understory having no native herbs, bushes and desirable tree seedlings, there is very little for other animals including birds, reptiles and insects to eat, and their ability to find shelter is challenged.
A larger deer population means more deer on area roads. Consequently that means more collisions with vehicles. These collisions can mean costly repairs, human injuries, and at times can even take human life.
As I mentioned earlier, a more dense deer population also threatens the health of the herd. Bovine tuberculosis, a bacterial disease that has the potential to infect other animals including humans, has recently been found in deer. Chronic wasting disease and brucellosis are also a concern. Another health risk for humans, white-tailed deer are a host for the tick that carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Control of deer populations is a difficult social and political question. Aside from other aspects of the issue, they need our help regarding overcrowding, which means more serious, more quickly spreading disease. Overcrowding can also result in a shortage of food, leading to starvation. Of course with control, agriculture will benefit with less crop damage. Roads will be safer.
An already established method of control is hunting. There is great advantage to hunting for states’ economies. The value of license fees, meat, and purchases made by hunters, of equipment, food and transportation brings in hundreds of millions of dollars throughout our country.
This pastime is a highly valued tradition to a large portion of our population. Aside from just being a form of recreation, many of my neighbors use deer hunting as a way to put food on their tables. This is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Hunting is a part of our heritage and those deer with their burgeoning population need our help.