Entertainment  > White-Tailed Deer: Creatures or Crops?


 Because of increased conflicts between deer and people, many urban and suburban communities are leaning toward hunting. This fall, we need caring people like you to speak up on behalf of the deer. Attend public meetings and tell people the truth about hunting. We hope the following information will give you the tools you need to stop your local deer hunts. "Speak for those who can't."


The Fund for Animals -- (301) 585-2591


Q: Don't we need hunting to keep deer from overpopulating ?


A: Hunters and wildlife agencies are not concerned with reducing deer herds, but rather with increasing or maintaining the number of targets for hunters and the number of potential hunting license dollars. Hunters and wildlife managers talk about deer overpopulation merely as a smokescreen to justify their recreation to the public. The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife states that "the deer resource has been managed primarily for the purpose of sport hunting," and a Michigan hunting columnist readily admits, "deer hunters want more deer and more bucks, period."


Q: But we need some management, don't we?


A: The current system of wildlife mismanagement has been directly responsible for the rise in conflicts between deer and people. While some forms of nonlethal management may be appropriate, managing deer herds for the sole interest of providing enough targets for sport hunters has wreaked havoc on deer and on the animals who share their ecosystems. For example, Michigan has a "Deer Range Improvement Program" (DRIP) that earmarks $1.50 from each deer hunting license sold into a fund specifically designed to increase deer reproductivity and to maximize sport hunting opportunities. According to a 1975 Detroit Free Press report, three years after the DRIP program began, "The DAR's Wildlife Division wants to keep clear-cutting until 1.2 million acres of forest land -- more than a third of all of the state-owned forest -- have been stripped . . . the wildlife division says it is necessary because a forest managed by nature, instead of by a wildlife division, can support only a fraction of the deer herd needed to provide for half a million hunters." Since that prophetic 1975 report, the number of hunters in Michigan has doubled and the state's deer herd has tripled.


Q: Doesn't hunting keep deer numbers down?


A: While it is indisputable that hunting removes some animals from the population, it does not keep deer populations at a continually reduced level. While the average fall hunting season may remove 20% to 30% of the deer from a population, surviving deer will have less competition for food and increased nutritional health. Scientific studies indicate that better-nourished deer have higher productivity, lower neonatal mortality, increased conception rates, and increased pregnancy in yearlings. In hunted populations, does are more likely to have twins rather than single fawns, and are more likely to reproduce at a younger age, thus helping the population grown even faster. A Florida study even indicated that "twinning was 38% on hunted and 14% on non-hunted" deer populations. Because hunting pressure is focused on bucks, hunting skews the sex ratio of deer herds and leaves more females to reproduce (there have been reports of "does outnumbering bucks by as much as 30-1"). In these skewed sex ratios, a single buck can impregnate every doe in the population. Since hunting may cause the reproduction rates of a deer population to double or triple, hunting is not a solution to a problem, but is rather a commitment to a permanent problem.


Q: Won't deer starve to death if they are not hunted?


A: Hunters do not search for starving animals. They either shoot animals at random, or they seek out the strongest and healthiest animals in order to bring home the biggest trophies or largest antlers. While Michigan hunters, for example, killed more than 400,000 deer during the 1995 hunting season, state officials estimated that 200,000 deer starved to death the following winter. Clearly, hunting is not stopping starvation, but may in fact be adding to the problem by triggering increased productivity in the deer population. Even a Michigan hunting columnist condemned "the risk taken to build up the state deer herds to unrealistic levels in order to satisfy hunters and to sell more hunting licenses each year."


Q: Don't we need hunting to stop deer from invading suburban areas?


A: Urban and suburban communities tend to lean toward bowhunting or muzzleloading weapons because they fear the use of firearms in residential areas. Yet, these two cruel and primitive methods of hunting do not effectively reduce deer populations because of their extremely high crippling rates. Dozens of scientific studies indicate that bowhunting yields more than a 50% crippling rate. For every animal dragged from the woods, at least one animal is left wounded to suffer. Muzzleloading equipment, because of the lengthy amount of time it takes to reload, also yields a high incidence of crippling. Hunter education manuals indicate that while a deer shot with a rifle may take 5-10 minutes to die, an animal shot with a muzzleloader may linger for 60-70 minutes. Bowhunting and muzzle- loading deer hunts may be psychologically soothing to landowners, but killing and wounding animals at random does little or nothing to stop conflicts between deer and people.


Q: Doesn't hunting stop deer from eating flowers and endangered plants?


A: Killing some deer because we want to protect certain vegetation does not stop the surviving deer from eating those same plants. What we need are site-specific mitigation measures that have proven to be both humane and effective. With high-tensile wire fencing, electric fencing, and the planting of vegetation that is unpalatable to deer, nearly every deer problem can be resolved or reduced. The California Department of Fish and Game distributes "A Gardeners Guide to Preventing Deer Damage," and the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife donates materials to farmers and homeowners who report deer damage -- including barbed wire and high-tensile electric fencing, and repellents such as "Hinder" (a liquid) and "Deer Away" (a granulated powder.)


Q: Doesn't hunting reduce automobile accidents?


A: While public officials tend to blame an increase in deer-vehicle collisions on an increase in the deer population, such collisions are more often the result of more roadways being built, more people driving, and roadways bisecting deer habitat. Killing some deer does absolutely nothing to prevent the surviving deer from crossing the exact same roadways at the exact same "deer hot spots." Michigan hunters, for example, killed 330,980 deer in 1993, and Michigan drivers collided with 47,813 deer that same year. In 1994, Michigan hunters killed 362,490 deer and drivers hit 56,666 deer. Clearly, an increase in deer killing does not solve the problem of deer-vehicle collisions. In fact, there is evidence that suggests a direct correlation between higher deer-car accident statistics and the onset of hunting season. Hunting season has a disruptive effect by startling deer and putting them more "on the run." With nonlethal and effective mitigation measures such as driver education, reduced speed limits, improved fencing techniques, lining the roads with vegetation that is unpalatable to deer, and the use of roadside reflectors to deter deer from crossing roads, some communities are actually reducing the number of deer-vehicle collisions. Several scientific studies applaud the use of Sprinter-Lite Reflectors (formerly called Swareflex Reflectors) that, when installed and maintained properly on the sides of roadways, can reflect light from a vehicle's headlights and stop deer from crossing. The Washington State Department of Transportation recorded an 88% reduction in deer-vehicle collisions after installation, and Minnesota officials recorded a 91% decrease.


Q: Doesn't hunting stop the spread of lyme disease?


A: Although deer are a primary carrier of the adult Ixodes scapularis tick -- the "Lyme disease tick" or "black -legged tick" -- many wildlife species carry the larval and nymph stages of the tick which are actually the most infectious to humans. The tick can be found on 49 bird species and is commonly carried by a variety of mammals, including white-footed mice, chipmunks, grey squirrels, voles, foxes, rabbits, and opossums. When deer numbers are reduced, ticks tend to congregate at higher densities on the remaining deer or switch to alternate hosts. Even during a study in which all the deer were eradicated from as island, the number of adult ticks actually increased. Lyme disease is easily treatable if it is caught in time, and nearly every state wildlife agency and physician's office offers free brochures on how to protect yourself from Lyme disease ticks when spending time in the woods.


Q: Deer contraception isn't really an option, is it?


A: With the vast surge in immunocontraceptive technology over the past few years, the deer contraceptive dart known as "porzine zona pellucida" (PZP) is a viable option. The contraceptive, when injected into female deer, stops reproduction for one to two years. The National Park Service tested PZP on Fire Island National Seashore off the coast of Long Island and reported a 95% success rate. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is now using PZP at its 575-acre campus in suburban Washington, DC. If wildlife agencies did not spend billions of dollars on hunter education, enforcement of hunting regulations, and other hunting activities, that money could be better spent on more research and implementation of contraceptive programs.