by Shreya Birudavolu ’24
Published Mar. 23rd, 2021
Deer overpopulation is a big problem in states across America: deer spread diseases, can cause car accidents, and severely stunt forest growth, which directly impacts the planet’s ability to mitigate climate change. Yet, assessing deer damage makes it too easy to forget what humans have done.
We’ve built houses and infrastructure, left behind pollution, and exploited natural resources, doing damage at an unprecedented rate to Earth.
Currently, the primary method of deer population management is hunting. But how can hunting deer be the solution if it was what started this problem in the first place? Hunting, in addition to larger issues like expanding infrastructure development and pollution, drove out deer’s natural predators like wolves, lions, and coyotes. Clearly, human interference only causes more problems.
Hunting can actually backfire and result in improved overall deer health as it can reduce competition for surviving deer, who then have access to more food. A greater ability to survive results in more fawns.
Another reason for the inefficiency of hunting is that deer eventually learn to avoid hunting areas and take refuge in safer places where they can sleep during the day and feed after dark. Meanwhile, general hunting in New Jersey is prohibited from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise.
It may seem like hunting is the only choice to manage deer populations, but there is always a choice between killing and not killing. Just because other solutions may be more difficult does not mean we should avoid them if they’re right.
One possible method is to plant more deer-averse plants. This can keep them away from certain areas like the roads. Some deer-averse plants include Floss Flower, Signet Marigold, Snapdragon, Butterfly Bush, and Juniper.
Secondly, we can promote more wildlife sanctuaries for deers. This could provide a safe hangout for deers and also keep them away from human property and important patches of woods or forest.
It is important to mention that hunters can unintentionally create sanctuaries when they avoid places that are difficult or inconvenient to get to. Deer use these sanctuaries to avoid hunters because they know they will be safer there.
Yet another possible solution is wildlife fertility control. A new vaccine called PZP (porcine zona pellucida) prevents does, or female deer, from having fawns. This vaccine does not cause behavioral changes or harm to the animals and is completely safe. The vaccine was originally studied in deer in Fire Island National Seashore. The primary goal was to see how effective PZP was in deer and if more than 200 of them could be darted each year.
This goal was easily achieved. More importantly, the researchers found that immunocontraceptives alone could be used to stabilize and reduce a deer population over time. With recent improvements, the PZP vaccine can now prevent deer from having fawns for up to three years with just one treatment.
Though this too may seem cruel, it is much better than killing deer as it allows them to continue with their lives, even if it’s at a lesser quality.
It is also important to remember that nature has its own course and interfering often makes things worse than they were before. If the deer continue their overpopulation, their numbers will reduce naturally through starvation, disease, and competition for resources.