The rapidly increasing deer population continues to put an unprecedented strain upon woodland ecosystems, agricultural production, residential landscaping, and human health.
Information regarding the current deer population varies, but numbers are projected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million animals. Some suburban areas are experiencing deer population densities as high as 30-40 animals (occasionally reaching 100 or more) per square mile (ecosystems begin to degrade when counts rise above 15-20 deer per square mile).
Most deer information concurs that the majority of these high-density deer population areas are located in suburban environments where expensive landscaping has become a deer's primary food source.
Interestingly enough, at the turn of the century, the deer population in the U.S. was actually less than 500,000 animals. This was due primarily to poor deer management that included over-hunting for commercially sold venison (deer meat). Many states actually had to have deer re-introduced from other parts of the country to re-stock their lost deer herds!
There are three types of deer indigenous to North America - Mule Deer, Black Tail Deer, and Whitetail Deer. Of these, the Whitetail Deer is by far the most common, with the Mule and Black Tail found primarily from the Rocky Mountains westward.
Deer thrive in "fringe" areas between woods and open areas where they have both cover and food resources. Development of woodlands and farmland for residential communities produces these ideal environments.
Natural predators for the most part have disappeared from most areas in the U.S. In the past, wolves and mountain lions would typically keep deer herds in check.
Decreasing numbers of hunters and dwindling hunting locations within suburban environments. The hunter population base is "graying" and with fewer and fewer young hunters taking up the sport, there is less hunting pressure on deer herds.
Many suburban areas have been built up to the point where most, if not all forms of hunting are no longer permitted, thus producing a "predator-free" environment for our four-footed friends.
Milder winters and nutritious landscaping and farm crops, often induces does to produce multiple births with greater frequency.
The combined result of these four factors is a deer population that is growing at alarming rates. Over-population of any one species is always a cause for concern. Listed below are a few of the more obvious and challenging deer management problems associated with the proliferation of the Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginanus)
Significant increase in the number of cases of Lyme Disease.
Over 16,000 cases were reported back in 1999 alone, but it is a known fact that as many as 3-4 times more cases go unreported or undiagnosed.
Dramatic increase in automobile and airplane collisions with deer. More than 1 million vehicles collide with deer each year, causing over 100 human deaths, and more than 1 billion in repair costs. Accidents peak during hunting and mating season.
The state of Connecticut had a 297% increase in the number of deer struck by a vehicle between 1995 and 2000. Aircraft have struck more than 500 deer in the past 10 years.
Large scale losses of agricultural crops, landscaping, and gardens. Recent data suggests that deer are now causing nearly $1 billion in farm, garden, and timber damage annually in the U.S. 4. Impedance of woodland tree and native plant regeneration.
For the past ten years or more, deer have been continually browsing virtually all plant material under five feet in height throughout many forest areas. The end result is a loss of many native plants and wildflowers and a significant decrease in the number of young sapling trees that will replace older trees as they die back. The long-term stakes could be dire with erosion and the potential loss of many hardwood forests.
The most obvious deer management answer - reduce the deer herd, is perhaps one of the most difficult and emotionally charged political/social subjects in recent memory. While most everyone agrees that the deer population needs to be reduced in many regions, how to effectively and humanely achieve this has been hotly debated.
The least humane, but most effective deer management technique that will achieve dramatic herd reductions, is achieved by large-scale controlled hunts conducted by expert marksman that are contracted by the local government or municipality. This will be effective as long as the "culling" of deer continues on into the future. If the population is left unchecked it will grow to match or exceed its' previous numbers.
Other options include: Darting female deer with sterility darts - a tedious process that requires darting each doe every season to keep her from reproducing. This technique has proven to be effective in smaller, self-contained environments such as Fire Island, New York, where the technique has proven to be relatively effective.
Capturing and re-locating deer has been demonstrated to have little value as over 90% of the re-located animals perish due to the trauma of being relocated to a new environment in which they have no established feeding patterns.
The most effective, humane way for a homeowner or small business/farm owner to deter deer from their properties is the use of a physical barrier. Deer fencing has become an extremly popular alternative for controlling deer damage. Not only is it simple & effective, it's usually very budget friendly and DIY-friendly!
Some of the above facts and figures were obtained from a New York Times article by Andrew Revkin.