Ideas for Your Nuisance Deer Conservation Program
In response to our article, “Preventing Deer from Becoming Pests,” (July 2017, Volume 14, Issue 3, p.2), we decided to write a follow-up. We begin by asking, are deer pests? We explore the reasons why. Assuming that deer are a regional pest of widespread habitat, we talk about the collaborative and regional efforts that would need to be undertaken to conserve habitat and control populations. Consistent with any integrated pest management strategy, we talk about monitoring for ecological and human health impacts caused by deer as being a key to any conservation program. We discuss management and conservation options.
Imagine that you could hire a consultant to help you deal with the ecological damage caused by having too many deer in your municipality.
Deer spread Lyme disease, and all tick-borne diseases.1 They collide with cars, threatening human lives.2 Destroy gardens, disrupting human leisure and recreation.3 Put songbirds at risk.4 5 6 Demolish forest understories, hurting biodiversity, with effects that can last at least twenty years after deer pressure has been removed.7 8 9
It may seem like a local problem to your municipality, but the abundance of deer is regional: basically everywhere in the Northeast deciduous forests of the United States. Unfortunately, few places will have the resources to hire a consultant to help the community understand the local deer problem. Furthermore, no consultant acting alone will be able to fix the problem. He or she may make recommendations, but it will be up to others to provide tools and implement solutions. At the very least, this article will give you some ideas to get your own program started.
In New York State, if there is too much damage from deer, you could organize a nuisance deer removal program. This option is not available in all states. Fencing is another option. An eight-foot fence will keep out most deer from an area. Obviously, it is impractical to fence off a town.
There’s a popular myth that humans are invading deer territory. Wrong! The invention of the suburb created the perfect habitat for deer. Ecologists call deer an “edge” species, meaning they thrive in exactly the same kind of suburban landscapes people enjoy: lush gardens, wide open grass lawns, a diversity of flowering and fruiting plants and shrubs.10
Methods exist to securely and safely remove nuisance deer without risk to humans or other animals.11 12
The primary drawback is that organizing a nuisance deer removal program will usually generate negative publicity organized by people opposed to killing deer, or by people who wish to keep deer numbers high so they are plentiful for hunting.
Some researchers have attempted to sterilize deer instead of removing them. Unfortunately, it costs too much and doesn’t work.13 Meanwhile, moving deer to another location is illegal in every state in the United States. Relocated deer suffer enormous mortality as they try to return or establish territory in already filled places.14 It would merely move the problem to a new location.15
Most locales try to control deer numbers through hunting. However, many experts believe there aren’t enough people interested in hunting to effectively reduce the great numbers of suburban deer in the northeastern US and their ecological and human health impacts.16
“Even if there were enough hunters,” said Bernd Blossey, an ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, “hunting has never proven to be able to reduce populations to ecologically acceptable levels, or affect Lyme disease for that matter.”
Outcomes of Culling
Meat from culled deer is often donated to a regional food pantry.17 It is illegal in every state to hunt wildlife with the intention to sell meat. Incidentally, New Zealand keeps their deer population under control through commercial hunting, and, ironically, some of the venison is imported into the US.18
“In most places with nuisance programs, hunters decide what to do with venison, or municipalities can decide,” said Blossey. “All of the meat can be put into the human food chain.”
Blossey and his fellow researchers point out that it takes strong agency leadership and community support to sustain a deer management program. Managers will need to collect data about human health and ecological impacts of deer as evidence the program is working.19
1 Kilpatrick, H. J., A. M. LaBonte, and K. C. Stafford. 2014. The relationship between deer density, tick abundance, and human cases of Lyme disease in a residential community. J. Med. Entomol. 51 (4): 777–784.
2 Sterba, J. 2012. Nature Wars. Crown Publishers: New York.
4 DeCalesta, D. S. 1994. Effect of white-tailed deer on songbirds within managed forests in Pennsylvania. J. Wildl. Manag. 58 (4): 711–718. blogs.cornell.edu/cerp/files/2014/05/Effect-of-white-tailed-deer-on-songbirds-24gbjqn.pdf
5 Jirinec, V., D. A. Cristol, and M. Leu. 2017. Songbird community varies with deer use in a fragmented landscape. Landsc. Urban Plan. 161:1–9. DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2017.01.003
6 Chollet, S., and J.-L. Martin. 2013. Declining woodland birds in North America: Should we blame Bambi? Divers. Distrib. 19 (4): 481–483. DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12003
7 Chips, M. J., E. H. Yerger, A. Hervanek, T. Nuttle, A. A. Royo, J. N. Pruitt, T. P. McGlynn, C. L. Riggall, and W. P. Carson. 2015. The indirect impact of long-term overbrowsing on insects in the Allegheny National Forest region of Pennsylvania. Northeast. Nat. 22 (4): 782–797. DOI: 10.1656/045.022.0412
8 Nuttle, T., T. E. Ristau, and A. A. Royo. 2014. Long-term biological legacies of herbivore density in a landscape-scale experiment: Forest understoreys reflect past deer density treatments for at least 20 years. J. Ecol. 102:221–228.
9 Nuttle, T., E. H. Yerger, S. H. Stoleson, T. E. Ristau. 2011. Legacy of top-down herbivore pressure ricochets back up multiple trophic levels in forest canopies over 30 years. Ecosphere 2 (1): article 4.
10 Sterba, J. 2012.
12 Boulanger, J. R., P. D. Curtis, and B. Blossey. 2014. An integrated approach for managing white-tailed deer in suburban environments: The Cornell University study. Cornell University, Department of Natural Resources, Ithaca, NY. https://deeradvisor.dnr.cornell.edu/sites/default/files/resources/IntegratedApproachForManagingWTDeerInSuburbanEnvironments-28ax086.pdf.
14 Blossey, B. Personal communication, September 18, 2017.
15 Sterba, J. 2012.
18 Boulanger, J. R., P. D. Curtis, and B. Blossey. 2014.
— by CHRIS GONZALES
The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.