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By Chas Moore, Area Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
As human populations continue to increase and encroach into neighboring woodlands, wildlife--including deer--are suddenly becoming urban animals Some species cannot cope with this type of environment and locally die out or move to whatever available woodlots are left. Deer, on the other hand, are amazingly adaptable creatures and have learned to live alongside human development. In fact, there are more deer today than when our forefathers set foot on this country. This leads to quite a few problems as humans and deer clash for available space.
The root of all the problems that exist in urban settings is overpopulation of local isolated deer herds, which can be detrimental to both deer and humans. Most cities do not allow firearms to be used inside the city limits for obvious reasons, which takes hunting as a means of population control out of the equation. With no predators except an occasional neighborhood dog and nowhere else to go, deer populations explode.
Some towns allow the use of archery equipment. If this is the case where you live, some of the best deer hunting can be found right in your own back yard. However, use caution when hunting in these settings. Make sure you have obtained permission from the landowner and check with local agencies to make sure hunting is permissible. If you have done your homework and everything checks out, you can bet there will be plenty of venison for the freezer. You also will provide the community with a valuable service by reducing the ever-increasing deer population. This also helps the remaining deer herd by ensuring more food will be available, thus promoting healthier animals.
Deer-vehicle accidents are on the rise in urban areas each year, leading to millions of dollars in damage. Once local populations have eaten most of the food from the surrounding woodlands in early winter, practically all that remains is along the roadsides. This inevitably leads to disastrous consequences. Other green spaces deer seek out for browsing are golf courses, city parks and urban yards. In hard times, deer will browse on most anything that is green and can destroy ornamental shrubbery, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Bucks also will rub their antlers on whatever woody saplings are available, which often ends up killing the plant.
Some homeowners have learned to deter deer from their yards by a number of means. A perimeter fence is effective but it can be quite costly because the fence needs to be at least 8 feet tall to keep deer from jumping over it. Many times a backyard dog will deter deer. Hanging soap, dryer sheets, and hair from branches will keep deer out for a while, at least until they get used to these items being around. Certain plants, such as onions, garlic, chives, mint, catnip, lavender, sage, and thyme can be planted to deter deer from feeding in flowerbeds and vegetable gardens.
Many nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts enjoy watching deer and try to attract them to their yards by putting up feeders. Not only is this costly, but more times than not these same people eventually grow weary of them after all the shrubbery, bushes, flowers and ornamental plants in the yard have been eaten or destroyed. Feeding deer also leads them towards or across highways in many instances. This increases the likelihood of deer-vehicle collisions, which makes for a dangerous situation in the community. In addition, most people feed deer corn, which is a poor substitution for natural food. Anytime deer are feeding in one specific location, such as at a feeder, disease and illness potentially can be spread to all the deer using the feeder. In most situations, it is probably best to let deer be as wild as possible in the city and just enjoy seeing one from time to time. As long as people continue to spread to the countryside, they will have to learn to live with urban deer.