Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Culling

Deer on a gold course on Jekyll Island, GA late last month
There has been a recent flash of controversy surrounding an island off the Georgia coast and growing concerns about their deer population. Simply put, there are too many. They are well over their sustainable population at eighty per square mile. That's a lot of deer! The estimated sustainable population is only about thirty deer per square mile.

Deer in the sand dunes on Jekyll Island
Hunting has long been illegal on the island, which is one reason why the population has swelled. Another is that feeding of the deer is common, a practice which I am steadfastly against. Now, there are too many deer for the island to sustain. This means that there's not enough natural food sources for the deer that there are, and every year that passes only brings more deer into the already swollen population.

It's not like the problem has suddenly occurred, as population growth takes time. Indeed, the cull was proposed long before last month. However, concerned citizens fear for the loss of the deer. This group, as well as a few others, have caused the cull to be put off, if not stopped completely. Another major reason why the cull has been opposed is that the deer are a tourist attraction. However, this is the exact opposite view to what should be held by those concerned about a precious natural resource such as these deer.

Most experts agree that culls can be quite useful and helpful in management of wildlife for a variety of reasons. In the case of the Jekyll Island deer, the major concern is for the animals themselves. As I already mentioned, having a population above its sustainable size means there is not enough food for the animals. Not enough food means hungry, hungry animals. Feeding these animals is not the solution. As I've mentioned before, feeding of animals is dangerous. In this case the biggest concerns are the animals eating improper food, disease transmission between animals, and dangers posed to people. Though deer look cute, they can actually be quite dangerous. People have been attacked and killed by deer before. Mother deer are very defensive of their fawns and those hooves are sharp. Even worse are the bucks, who can be quite aggressive. This is especially true during rut, when hormones run high and males compete for the right to mate with as many females as possible. Antlers are like knives and a rutting male will not hesitate in charging at a perceived threat, antlers first. When you combine a potentially quite dangerous animal with a loss of its natural fear of people thanks to feeding and a decrease in natural food sources thanks to overpopulation it's like a powder-keg.

What this all boils down to, is that the cull needs to occur. If it doesn't, bad things will start to happen. After the natural food sources run out, deer will start to starve to death. Those hungry deer will be spotted in developed areas more and more, eating every bit of potential food they can get their mouths on. This includes gardens, which may lead to animals being poisoned by plants that they aren't meant to eat. Since the deer will be in closer proximity to people, the risk of attacks will skyrocket, particularly involving deer that have been fed by people. With the population as high as it is, it's not a matter of if these things will happen, it's a matter of when.

A lot of positive results will come out of a cull. The deer will not get to the point of starving and thus will continue to be a healthy population. The risk to people will drop significantly. Lastly, the deer that are killed need not go to waste. Similar to the hogs killed by hunters in areas where they are a serious issue, the meat can be donated to soup kitchens or other groups that help feed the hungry.

Sources are the Athens Banner-Herald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Florida Times-Union, Jekyll Island Family Adventures, Wildlife Rescue South Coast Inc, WLTX, City of Fort Thomas, KY, and Texas Parks & Wildlife. Images from Flickr.com under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

5 comments:

  1. I lived in Ohio years ago and the state legislature outlawed deer hunting at one time. It was a disaster. Deer invaded city lawns, parking lots, streets and highways looking for food. Many serious car accidents cost lives of people, much property damage and horrible deaths for the deer.

    Finally the lawmakers got their heads out of their posteriors.

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    1. That's insane. Deer hunting is basically a necessity in areas where they no longer have natural predators. Do you know when the ban was?

      I'm so used to there being plenty of deer around here, but there are also plenty of hunters. There have been years in the past where they've had open season on does to try and bring the population down. Normally, though, there's a regular set limit on how many can be killed per hunter. I've known quite a number of people that rely on deer meat. They hunt each year, then freeze most of what they get so they can eat it year round.

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  2. Jan,

    When did Ohio ban deer hunting?

    Right now, deer season in Ohio is as big as it is in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. You can't use a rifle to shoot them in Ohio, though.

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  3. If they don't want to cull, then I'm sure introducing a viable gene pool of wolves would be a great alternative way of keeping the deer population in check. And after all, they don't attack humans very often at all. Until people start feeding them.

    (In case you can't tell, that was not a serious proposal.) :-)

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    1. Ha! Makes me wonder if anyone would actually try that.

      I don't know how viable a wolf population would be on the island. It's small at just under nine square miles.

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