In many suburban neighborhoods, deer now rival raccoons as pests. I take this personally because deer have been ravaging our flower gardens this year, but I have never understood why deer seem to like gardens so much. After all, we live in a lush part of the world with plenty of rainfall and lots of open space. So why do the deer love suburbs?
This Wall Street Journal article confirmed that my yard is not the only place where deer are a menace, and answered some of my questions: “How to Solve America’s Wild Deer Problem? Eat Them.”
Before Europeans came to America, there were an estimated 30 million wild deer in what is now the eastern U.S. By 1900 that figure had fallen by 99% due to unrestricted hunting, and conservationists made it their mission to protect deer from extinction. They might have succeeded too well. Today the wild deer population has rebounded to precolonization levels, becoming a nuisance to suburban homeowners who find deer invading their yards and gardens.
Where I live, wolves once kept deer populations in check. No longer. This is what I hadn’t understood:
The reality is that suburban sprawl creates better deer habitat than a feral forest can. … With our pampered gardens for their dining rooms, deer find richer foods than whatever once grew on the wild plots swallowed by suburbia. Gorging like gourmands on 7 pounds of plant matter a day, a doe that might normally drop one fawn a year now often gives birth to twins or triplets.
I also hadn’t realized that deer are harmful to the environment:
Large deer populations also inflict serious damage on wild lands. A 2013 report by The Nature Conservancy declared that “no other threat to forested habitats is greater at this point in time—not lack of fire, not habitat conversion, not climate change.” Urban-adjacent deer multiply at the expense of forest tree seedlings, songbirds and native plants, as well as farmers and drivers.
The sheer number of deer living in the suburbs is stunning:
Before European settlement, white-tailed deer thrived in the eastern U.S. at a density estimated at 2-4 animals per square kilometer. Research shows that if the density rises to more than 8 deer per square kilometer, many songbirds and native plant species decline. Today, there are as many as 50 to 114 deer per square kilometer in some developed areas of the U.S.
I think my neighborhood may be in that category. What to do about all those deer? An obvious solution is to put up a fence, but the Journal article notes that “[s]ome deer can jump as high as 11 feet.” The real solution is to shoot, and eat, the deer. I am pretty sure this is a concept that Steve can get behind:
In 2011, a group of wildlife experts published a proposal in the Wildlife Society Bulletin to solve the problem by exploiting the appetites of middle-class locavores. Their plan would allow a limited number of state-certified hunters to sell venison to restaurants and at farmers’ markets. The authors argue that venison could become popular as “a high-protein, low-fat and beneficially cholesterol-balanced food that is readily available across much of the eastern and midwestern United States.”
Well, sure. Venison could become more popular than bison (which, by the way, is amazingly good). There is one problem, though, which the Journal article doesn’t address–a mismatch between where deer are a nuisance, and where you can shoot them. My town, like all suburbs I assume, prohibits the public discharge of firearms. Absent that, I could get out my AR-15 and shoot a couple of deer toward dusk, when they come out to munch on my plants. I could then sell the carcasses to be butchered for meat, to be served in local restaurants.
But, as so often happens, foolish laws and regulations stand in the way of such sensible solutions. And unfortunately, shooting more deer in rural areas where hunting is legal won’t do anything for the glut of deer in the suburbs. So we need a thorough rethinking of our laws relating to firearms and hunting. The Journal article concludes on this sobering note:
As [Durham, N.C., restaurant owner Gray] Brooks says, “The U.S. is the only nation I know of where you can’t serve wild game.”
That needs to change.