White-tailed deer were all but extinct in the eastern United States at the end of the 19th century; their population reduced to remnant herds in isolated redoubts.
What caused their numbers to plummet? Firstly, the arrival of European fur traders created a demand for hides. Then, colonists and commercial hunters poured in and began a slaughter spanning three hundred years. Ernest Thompson Seton, a naturalist, estimated that by 1890 we had reduced the pre-Columbian population of around 30 million to roughly 350,000.
But, conservationists brought them back. It took decades.
The events that transpired in the late 20th century was unnatural. Whitetail populations skyrocketed, especially in areas of suburban and exurban sprawl, which were primarily off-limits to hunters and almost entirely devoid of natural predators. For whitetails, this habitat proved to be better than an unpopulated forest.
Today, with a restored whitetail population of 25 million to 40 million, foresters have begun to complain that high concentrations inhibit the growth of new trees. The animals feed on seedlings and other young vegetation and browse as high as they can reach, even standing on their hind legs. In some areas throughout the US, deer have become de facto forest managers, determining what eastern woodlands will look like 50 or 100 years from now.
Hunters, long shunned, are now being welcomed with open arms into some communities to trim deer hoards. Sometimes local governments hire professional sharpshooters to protect woods, parks, and neighborhoods; predictably, these moves have caused controversy.
One also thinks of the emotional distress suffered by the 4,000 drivers in the United States who hit deer yearly should be kept in mind.
Let’s take a look at the ecology.
“The Science of Overabundance,” a book published by the Smithsonian over 15 years ago, asserted that even then, many areas were too dense with whitetails. The book, written by 42 wildlife biologists, defined overabundance as “when deer threaten human life or livelihood, when they depress densities of favored species, they are too numerous for their excellence when they cause ecosystem dysfunction.”
How to Control
Their habitats vary widely, of course, but a good rule of thumb is that once the population exceeds 20 deer per square mile, they begin to diminish the vegetation on which they feed.
Humans, along with mountain lions and wolves, have been whitetail’s primary predators since the end of the most recent Ice Age. Evidence suggests that humans have killed more deer than every other predator combined. In the past few decades, however, towns, townships, and in some cases, entire counties have outlawed the discharging of firearms. (Hunters do kill around 100 people each year, mainly one another, in cases of trigger happy confusion. Statistically, deer kill more than twice that number in deer-on-vehicle collisions).
The result has been that for the first time in over 11,000 years, vast swaths of habitat in the heart of the white-tailed deer’s range are off-limits to their primary predator. Though coyotes as well as vehicles unavoidably kill deer, it’s not enough to keep populations at bay in many of these areas. This is why hunting seasons are imperative in states including Michigan.
You may be thinking, what does deer hunting have anything to do with pest control? Well, without proper population control, herds take to large open areas such as golf courses, airports, and other outdoor spaces. Airports, for example, will have issues with deer if they do not have fencing that is 12 ft or higher. Anything less than will allow them to jump over and become a hazard for aircraft. Deer prefer to stay within a particular area and will rarely venture off to join a new herd; if they do, it is typical of the other herd not to accept the animal. Their herds can include up to 25 members! This is why management and population control is so important.
Hogarth Pest Control & Wildlife Removal has been trained and certified to shoot in sensitive environments and can remove overpopulated deer to provide a safer environment for the client.
McShea, William J., et al. The Science of Overabundance: Deer Ecology and Population Management. Smithsonian Institution, 2003.