Burgeoning Deer Population Creates Huge Problems – For Deer and People

This past week, I had the opportunity of meeting with one of our local Mayoral candidates, Bridget Newton, running for office in Rockville, MD.   The small, intimate gathering was hosted by one of our neighbors, so we had a great opportunity to engage with Bridget on all things big and small.  At one point during the discussion, the topic turned to the burgeoning deer population in our neighborhood.   Like many urban neighborhoods with nice and expensive landscaping, the deer have made themselves at home in Fallsmead and are eating everything in sight.  

One neighbor asked the candidate whether she supported a hunt to thin the herd.  It was obvious from her fidgety answer that she was not supportive of such an option and, instead, suggested the kinder gentler approach of birth control.   This response prompted some nervous chuckles from my neighbors.  And as Bridget rightly pointed out, contraceptives been used in some places, by injecting the female deer with birth control.  The problem, however, is that contraception is extremely expensive and isn’t always effective.   And the concern about more contraceptives being discharged into our local streams, from the deer urine and feed that is laced with estrogenic compounds, does not strike me as an environmentally-friendly idea. 

For those who still prefer a kindler gentler approach for dealing with this burgeoning problem, there is ongoing research at Tufts University involving the use of immunocontraception, which uses the animal’s own immune system to prevent fertility.   This system will be used this year for the first time in Hastings NY, just outside of NYC and across the Hudson.  I’m anxious to find out the costs and effectiveness of this program. 

This population explosion has many risks and downsides, not the least of which is having to reinvest in new landscaping each year.   As a former wildlife management major, I witnessed the terrible suffering of animals from starvation and chronic wasting disease from inadequate nutrition.   While living in NC in the 1990s, I worked with several of my Duke colleagues to model the growth of the deer population in Durham County and estimated the asymptotic growth in deer-vehicle collisions.  Not only were hundreds of deer fatally struck by vehicles, but we predicted several human deaths due to high-speed collisions.   Nationwide, this problem, the risks, and costs are staggering.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 1 million car accidents with deer each year that kill 200 Americans, cause more than 10,000 personal injuries, and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage.  [full article here]

Unfortunately, animal rights activists and those opposed to hunting have exaccerbated this growing problem – a problem not only for the welfare of the individual deer and  herd but the safety of our families .   As a nature and animal lover, myself, I admire and respect these animals as much as anyone else.  However, I’m a firm proponent of using old fashion methods to thin the herd.   Until a newer and better method of controlling deer populations has been demonstrated, hunting remains the most effective and least expensive way to manage the herd, reduce animal suffering from starvation, reduce deer-vehicle collisions, and keep our children and family safe.  Professional sharpshooters remain the best hope for the deer and our communities.  And, as they do in Maine, New Hampshire, and other states, the meat from these animals can be donated to food banks to feed the hungry, helping to solve another big problem.

[Update:  A friend just shared this humorous picture from Daily Picks and Flicks which, although I’m not convinced of its authenticiy, tends to reinforce my point.]dog-cat-and-deer-on-the-porch

  1. Avatar Author
    Brent Fewell 10 years ago

    A comment from David Gossman

    Deer management is critical for environmental restoration and habitat management. We take 40-50 each year off my farm to control browse damage on tree and other native plantings. All of them get used for food so that reduces the amount of mostly beef that I and other hunters purchase. (I actually don’t buy any beef any more.) And that reduces the number of cows that are raised and put pressure on other natural areas via grazing and feed growing operations. Good for the environment all round. In addition to sharp shooters in a developed area bow hunters are also a good alternative and always looking for a place to put a stand. Here is the deer management plan we have successfully used for almost 20 years. http://treefarmproducts.com/DeerMgmtPlan.pdf

  2. Avatar Author
    Brent Fewell 10 years ago

    David, really important points you make. Effective use of game meat can help reduce the need for cattle. And while I love my New York strip, cattle can contribute to significant environmental problems.

  3. Avatar
    Michael Formica 10 years ago

    Good post, and highlights a real problem many people have bridging the gap between emotion and reality. Couple of points, first, how exactly do they manage to capture the deer to deliver a contraceptive? They shoot it, albeit with a tranqualizer gun. Of course, the fears of people shooting guns in an urban environment are nearly as real there as well. What happens if they miss? Or the tranquilizer isn’t fully injected – deer will run a long ways on adrenaline after being shot, and always head towards water. With a dart sticking out of them, they will try to brush it off. Much of those darts end up in water systems.

    Sharpshooters, alas aren’t the most efficient way to reduce the deer herd. Hunters are. More precisly, especially in an urban area, bow hunters are. Its also worth pointing out (another “inconvenient fact” that politically doesn’t always play well in urban areas) that police by and large are far less trained, and far less accurate shooters, than the typical active gun owner/shooter who will not only seek out initial training (and should), but invariably shoots more than the 50 rounds a year that a cop is required to shoot in order to stay qualified for their weapon.

    With regard to food, in addition to feeding the hunters themselves, most venison is probably processed through a program like Hunters for the Hungry. Virginia’s has been around a long time (I think th eprogram actually started in Virginia). They receieved a record 407,000 pounds – or 1.63 million quarter pound servings – in 2010. They’ve donated over 20 million servings since the program started. With the economic downturn that number has dropped as some have been forced to keep more meat for themselves. Virginia’s goal for 2013 is 370,000 pounds of venison.

    Maryland has a much fancier web page, and calls their program Farmers and Hunters Feeding The Hungry. I’m sure they’ve donated similiar amounts of venison, though they don’t post the information as clearly (one of the problems with a fancier web page is its easier to lose the important info). Both are great options – and could use both more venison as well as more $$$ from concnerned individuals looking to help feed the poor. The money they recieved goes to pay butchers who process the animals for donation to food shelters.

    FWIW, if you or your neighbors have deer issues, I’m more than happy to try to hunt them. Not sure I will succeed, but my mere presence will send them scattering far far away.

  4. Avatar
    Michael Formica 10 years ago

    Here’s the story, from the Maryland Page, on how the program began.

    I was driving down a Virginia highway in late September 1997 to meet with some friends. We were planning to clear a little brush at the farm where we hunt and celebrate the landowner’s birthday with a barbecue. About five miles before turning down the gravel farm lane I spotted a woman standing by her car with the trunk open. I was a little late and tempted not to stop. I’m glad I did.
    From her dress and the appearance of her old car of many colors it was obvious she was not doing well. When I asked if her car was broken she said, “No could you please help me over here beside these bushes.’’ What was waiting for me over beside those bushes? Hesitantly, I followed until I spotted a fat but slightly battered 6 point buck beside those bushes. She slowly asked , “Could you please help me put it in my trunk?”

    When I asked if she had hit it with her car she said, “No.” Next I explained that unless she reported the deer to the State Police or a Wildlife Officer she could be issued a citation for transporting an untagged deer. She looked into my eyes and slowly answered, “I don’t care…my kids and me are hungry.” Too much talk and too little action…we loaded the deer into her trunk.

    As she closed the lid of her trunk I asked one last question. “Would you like me to field dress it for you?” Her reply answered all, “No, since my husband left, me and my kids are gettin` good at it at home… and they don’t bleed all over my trunk anymore.” Standing there as she drove away I knew I had just looked into the eyes of Jesus.

    Wonder where Bridget Newton would be if she realized that hutning not only can solve the terrible problem of too many deer, but that it also helps feed the poor and hungry, including struggling single mothers. Its also worth pointing out that with regard to real dedication and willingess to engage meaningfully towards environmental improvement (and actual knowledge about issues) the average hunter is orders of magnitude beyond the average urban voter carrying their plastic whole foods shopping bag, making their $25 HSUS auto contribution, and alternating between their trendy Prius and their Gas Guzzling SUV soccer player caravan.

  5. Avatar Author
    Brent Fewell 10 years ago

    Michael, great contribution. My only quibble would be on the sharpshooters. While hunters are the ideal solution, in areas of high density populations, even as a hunter, I’m not sure I want any hunter discharging a 30-06. I’ll pay extra for the sharpshooter. Really good to know about Maryland’s Farmers and Hunters program. Will pass that along.

  6. Avatar
    Michael Formica 10 years ago

    Don’t disagree about shooting rifles in densely populated areas. And wouldn’t suggest opening it up to everyone.

    But it’s a great place for archers. Fairfax County (and Virginia generally) has a pretty well developed archery program with a number of hurdles in place to limit who participates and ensures those who do are sufficiently qualified. I’m actually going to be in a management hunt at a state forest with all sorts of restrictions on participation (I needed to prequalify, with my gun and the ammo to be used – both tracked by serial number, limited to buckshot, must be 30 feet or higher in a tree, which ensures no risk from shots, and they give is a pre selected spot to hunt).

    USDA wildlife services also has capabilities to manage game. They use suppressed weapons and night vision.

    Ideally, on a close quarters management hunt no one is using a 30-06 rather they are taking head shots using a suppressed .22 caliber gun (.22 mag works well, that’s what poachers used to use, I suspect USDA uses AR15s shooting frangible .223) on deer over bait in the dark with night vision. Instant death, no meat damage, and the other deer aren’t spooked so they can harvest multiple animals at a time.

    There’s a very small number of individuals who can qualify for a serious management hunt of that nature, I suspect most are active duty military or employeed sharpshooters from wildlife services.

    • Avatar Author
      Brent Fewell 10 years ago

      Michael, fully agree there are many ways to make local hunting safe. However, I suspect those opposed to hunting, would argue against any form of selective killing. But your points are well taken, and more communities would be well advised to research the availability of the options you mention to deal with this growing problem.

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