Deer Wars: Coming Soon to a Suburb Near You

Only wolves may provoke more public hatred and affection as much as deer, says Tom Rooney, a biology professor at Wright State University who runs the Deer Impacts blog. Once nearly wiped out by overhunting, deer are back in huge numbers, delighting some wildlife watchers (and hunters), but also annoying plenty of people with their eating and jaywalking habits.

For decades wildlife managers increased deer numbers for the amusement of hunters. Now Americans are hunting less and worrying more about car accidents, landscaping, lyme disease. Deer love suburban landscapes, which (thanks in part to fertilizer) can offer more food per acre than a forest, Rooney says.

“The new front on deer wars is really the suburbs or the exurbs,” says Rooney. “I see a lot of places trying to reinvent the wheel, with the same debate over and over. There’s the angry grandmother with a shotgun and across the street the neighbor won’t even talk to them. This is the new place wildlife management takes place is the suburbs.”
So his blog keeps curates stories of of all those angry grandmothers, hunters and wildlife watchers clashing over what the right deer population is for an area and how to reach that goal. The Deer Impact Blog also covers Outrageous Deer Densities, which can be found in parts of Iowa (135 per square mile) and Valley Forge National Park in King of Prussia, PA, (250 per square mile).
Valley Forge Deer by garmeni

Valley Forge Deer by garmen1

“The deer physically get smaller, start dwarfing though they continue to reproduce,” he says. “They can be one-quarter to one-third smaller.” Even with 70 or 80 per square mile–densities Rooney has witnessed–the deer’s behavior changes. “If you walk a little, a half mile loop, you’ll see 6 or 7 on your walk and they won’t walk way from you. They might start snorting.”
Even though urban areas are seeing rising deer numbers, some states have declining deer populations–and are trying to reverse the trend. Many non-hunters support hunting just because they believe it reduces deer populations. A study by Responsive Management found that more Americans favor the hunting of deer (78%) than any other animal;  the approval rating on shooting bear, mourning doves and mountain lions dips below 50%. Few non-hunters realize that deer hunting is often the objective of wildlife management policies, not just a tool.
In New York state, for example, managers have citizen task forces to get what is supposed to be the whole community’s input on  deer population goals–though as a non-hunter this is the first I’ve heard of them.  While most of the state’s 85 wildlife management units aim to reduce deer, 14 aim to increase deer and 20 want to maintain current levels. Hunters in Arizona and Nevada want to hunt more predators like mountain lions and coyotes to bring deer numbers up.  Maine hunters blame coyotes and other predators for a decreasing deer population. Wisconsin, after caving to hunters who want increased deer, are spending $2 million in federal money to figure out why Wisconsin deer are declining.
Wildlife managers can juice the population by limiting hunting, only harvesting males, providing supplemental feeding and killing off predators. They can tone deer numbers down by encouraging more overall hunting and specifically the hunting of does, letting predators run free and stopping feeding.
The controls work, “provided that both hunters and wildlife managers are on the same page,” Rooney says. In states where deer were never wiped out and the current crop of hunters learned their hobby from their grandfathers, “they don’t like to shoot the girls,” he says. States where deer hunting disappeared and reappeared seem the have better luck convincing hunters to shoot females.

Contraceptives also work, at least in isolated populations, he says. At about $26 a deer, they’re affordable, but require work every year and being able to reach at least 50% of the population.

Despite the declines seen in some states, he thinks overall we’ll see deer increasing.
Where to Go to See Special Deer

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