April 6, 2007

Getting along with deer

Posted in animal advocacy, deer, science, vegan at 4:03 pm by nevavegan

I’m a little steamed right now because in the area where I live there have been articles in the paper and public meetings to talk about “the deer problem.” Most solutions that have been suggested are lethal solutions. I did write a letter to the editor (fingers crossed that they take it).

NOTE: It seems some people read my letter to the editor and are coming here for more information on tick control.

Here are some links to help with tick control:


Now, more on getting along with deer.

First I guess I’d better explain the “deer problem.” I lived in this area all through high school and moved back in 1999. When I was younger, the area where my parents live, Reston, VA (about an hour drive from where I am now, but still part of the same metropolitan area) was largely wooded. It still had farms: family farms, truck farms (my dad grew up nearby on a truck farm—they grow table produce, drive to a crowded area and sell it out of the back of the truck, it’s not a farm for trucks), and Christmas tree farms. There were acres and acres of undeveloped land. My parents’ house backed up to a huge wooded area full of horse-riding paths. Likewise, when Sean and I moved to our most recent place in Maryland, we were told by all of the older residents that our street used to back up to 20 acres of woods. Now every possible inch of Reston is crammed with McMansions, shopping centers and high end condos, and my house backs up to row after row of cookie cutter houses.

So in short, once there was plentiful deer habitat, now we’re a sprawling metropolis where everyone drives everywhere and it’s just suburb to exburb with everything paved over. Well, if you build your house on deer territory, where do you think the deer are going to go?

Here are some point/counterpoints on the deer:

1. The anti-deer contingent claims that the deer population has exploded since hunting was banned in much of the region (hunting was banned not for animal concerns but because it creates issues to fire a gun in such a heavily populated area). They claim the deer population has increased by pointing to extremely questionable studies that estimate previous deer populations. However, the deer were once endangered in this area, so it’s hard to say if the population increase is just normalizing or really is an issue. I find the studies estimating deer population prior to European settlement to be so ludicrous that I can’t even discuss them. Further, hunting never reduced the deer population as hunting was of male deer only, and all it takes is one male to impregnate 20 females and return the deer population to prior levels. The deer were endangered before because when there were a lot of farms here, farmers saw the deer as a threat to their crops and competition for grazing land for livestock, so they systematically exterminated the deer.

2. The anti-deer voices cite the risk of traffic accidents involving deer as grounds to resume hunting them. Well, duh… When you look at rural regions and their suggestions for reducing deer related accidents they all say that deer accidents increase during hunting season as the hunters in the woods chase deer onto the roads. Additionally, who causes more accidents and more serious accidents, deer or other human drivers? Seriously. Also, no matter how small you reduce the deer population, short of endangering them again, you’re still going to have deer/car collisions until they put better barricades on the highways, get people to slow down (everyone here speeds), and teach people accident-avoidance techniques. People don’t know the silliest things about deer, such as they travel in groups, so if you see a deer in the road, don’t speed up and try to swerve around her, or you’ll hit the other deer following behind. You need to stop, scan the roadsides for more deer and proceed with caution. And there are lots of other tips for avoiding deer. Many accidents occur in areas with posted deer crossing signs and the drivers still speed, yet everyone blames the deer.

3. Next, people want to exterminate the deer because of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks, tiny little ticks that are sometimes hard to find and remove from people and companion animals. The ticks tend to end their life cycle on deer, which means as adult ticks they attach to deer, or to people, or dogs, or any warm blooded creature in their paths. The adult tick feeds until she becomes engorged, then drops off the host animal, lays her eggs in the ground, and finally dies. For this reason, the deer do help in the final stage of the tick’s life, as the deer are in the woods nearly all of the time, which allows the tick to drop off and lay eggs there.

However, the tick doesn’t begin her life on deer, instead this tiny tick after hatching feeds on deer mice. Once they are carrying the Lyme infection the ticks may bite humans and transmit the disease.

Killing deer won’t protect people from Lyme disease; it will just mean the ticks will go after more people, companion animals, squirrels and any other available animal.

Scientists have determined that the best way to reduce the threat of Lyme disease is to kill the ticks in their larval and nymph phases (the first stages of their life). To this end an amazingly simple solution has been found. Using miticide (a chemical much like the Frontline we can use on our companion animals to kill parasites) can kill ticks in all stages of their life and even prevent tick eggs from hatching. However it wouldn’t be healthy or environmentally sound to spray down wooded areas with chemicals. To get the maximum use from the smallest amount of miticide, it should be placed in the nests of the deer mice. How do we do that? This is so clever: we let the mice do it!

In experimental trials scientists treated cotton balls with the miticide and then put the cotton balls into cardboard tubes, like from toilet paper or paper towel roles, and put them into areas where mice are known to nest. The tubes keep the cotton safe and dry and prevent birds from carrying it off. When the mice go looking for nesting materials they find the softest cotton, and the mice are small enough to crawl into the tubes and get it. The mice carry the cotton back to their nests. The miticide is harmless to the mice but kills the ticks in the nest. Some miticide also gets in the fur of the mice and kills ticks that might bite them outside of the nest.

This method greatly reduces the tick population and disrupts the spread of Lyme disease. Best of all it doesn’t involve any misguided efforts to hurt deer or mice.

4. People want to kill deer because the deer are eating their landscaping plants. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. Um, you move to an area with a heavy deer population and then tear down the woods, pave over the fields where they used to graze, and then plant lots of decorative plants. What did anyone expect?

Still there are tons of publications on deer-resistant landscaping, and nothing beats investing in a really good, properly designed fence. Sigh, the mindset of killing these beautiful animals over landscaping is just so alien to me.

So that’s it, there’s my deer rant.