Home Energy and Environment The Disastrous Results of Unlimited Deer

The Disastrous Results of Unlimited Deer


2010-09-05: Deer in the HeadlightsA hundred years ago, humans hunting for food had nearly wiped out local populations of deer, turkey and even squirrels in the Mid-Atlantic region. And humans protecting their livestock or hunting for trophies wiped out bear and wolf populations.

Deer were eventually reintroduced – and their populations exploded. While black bears have made a comeback, they’re too slow to hunt adult deer. Wolves are great deer hunters, but reintroduction efforts in the eastern half of the United States have had limited success. And deer hunting is restricted on private property & on federal parkland, where deer thrive dashing through backyards and parks.

Today WAMU reports on the disastrous results for both people & our environment:

As an ever-rising population of white-tailed deer have bumped up against their human neighbors in the D.C. area, the results haven’t been pretty. There were an estimated 88,000 deer-vehicle collisions in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and Delaware last year.

But beyond the roads, experts say the deer are also having a major impact on forests, which are unable to replenish themselves to nurture the next generation due to the deer population’s eating habits.

Nationwide, those deer collisions result in 140 deaths and $3.8 billion in property damage every year. And it’s not as if overpopulation is great for the deer, which can face starvation and disease.

This isn’t a problem only in rural areas – Rock Creek Park is being stripped of plants below shoulder height. Even if deer populations came into balance today, it could take generations for trees to recover. As my friend Max points out, “And how about deer ticks? Since I work in Reston, I walk through approximately eleven billion deer ticks every day between the bus and the front door of my office.”

But the good news is that proper population management can deliver results right away. In Yellowstone National Park, a combination of hunting and wolf reintroduction have helped drive a rebirth – not just for trees, but for the birds, beaver, and dozens of other species that depend on a balanced ecosystem.

The bottom line is that unlimited, unchecked deer population growth isn’t good for anyone – not for deer, not for humans, and not for our ecosystems.

Cross-posted from The Green Miles

  • robsmithiii

    We need strong oversight over the herd from Inland Game & Fisheries. Bag limits ought to be adjusted regularly and, where safe and convenient, rifle season should be expanded.

    The untold story here is the additional toll on crops such as corn. Farmers do depend on a balanced deer population for the harvest of their crops.

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    This is a big problem in SW Virginia.  Some years back (about 25) we hit one on the highway. it played out in nearly slow-motion.  We heard the noise of the hooves coming across the traffic lanes. We tried to avoid it, but it grazed the driver’s side door and the post separating thee door frame from the windshield.  The windshield cracked, fur was embedded in places on the exterior we could not believe.  We stopped and got out searching for the dear to make sure it was not on the highway where it could be hit again and cause a serious wreck with another car.  It was nowhere to be found and must have limped into he forest along the highway.  We called the state police anyway.  We ere lucky.  No injuries.  Minor damage to the car.  Many people are not so lucky.  And deer can land on the hood, imperiling everyone inside the vehicle.  

    One other time we encountered a deer on the interstate in the dark.  my daughter saw it first.  And my husband eased the car around the befuddled animal. As he did I remember grabbing and holding both my daughter and granddaughter, on each side of me, as if that would keep them safe.  Would that it could.  That time we avoided contact.  I wrote about it on RK, I think.  The numbers you report are sobering.  As I wrote once before, “Be careful out there.”  

  • Jim B

    I don’t know if coyotes can do much to the deer population, but in WVa they are trying to wipe them out by offering a bounty. Guess WVa is a hot bed of sheep herding. Out west ranchers don’t want any wolves. They truck cattle to the middle of nowhere to the natural forest for the summer and then complain about wolves.