Has Chapel Hill’s Deer Killing Program Been Successful?

This is the fifth in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Assertion 5: “Such [deer killing] programs have been safely and successfully implemented in Duke Forest, Chapel Hill, and many other towns in North Carolina. ” [page 38]

Again, although there are three footnotes at the bottom of page 38, none of them references any studies regarding the safety or success of the deer killing programs in Duke Forest, Chapel Hill, or any other towns in North Carolina.

Clearly, the members of the task force know that Duke Forest is not a town. It is a privately owned tract of land that is closed to the public five days per week from late September through late December each year so that humans can “safely” kill deer. Members of the public are not allowed to hunt in Duke Forest: it is an invitational event open only to two select groups. In addition, hunters in Duke Forest use firearms in addition to bows and arrows, so it is impossible to compare their safety rate or success rate to that of a municipality that allows only bow hunting from stands.

In addition there are very few “other towns” in North Carolina with the progressive, justice-loving, non-violent ethos of Carrboro, but neighboring Chapel Hill comes close.

In 2011, the Chapel Hill Sustainability Committee guesstimated Chapel Hill’s deer population to be “25 to 35 per square mile.” Chapel Hill is 19.69 square miles. Using an average of 30 deer per square mile, and multiplying that number by the 19.69 square miles in Chapel Hill, the guesstimated population of deer in Chapel Hill in 2011 was 591. The Committee’s stated goal was to reduce the deer population to “fewer than 10 per square mile,” or a total of 196 or fewer deer.

How successful has the Urban Archery program in Chapel Hill been in meeting the goal of eliminating 395 deer from the Chapel Hill deer population?

The only conclusion we can deduce from the numbers is that the Chapel Hill deer killing program has been a dismal failure.

Number of Deer Killed During Chapel Hill’s Urban Archery  Seasons

Year

Adult Males

Baby Males Females

Total

2011

1

1 3

5

2012

3

0 7

10

2013

2

0 7

9

2014

9

1 9

19

2015

5

1 11

17

Totals

20

3 37

60

Assuming that the original population was evenly split between males and females, and assuming that all Chapel Hill deer stay within Chapel Hill and no other deer move in, and assuming that each female gives birth to an average of two offspring, and assuming that the average lifespan of each deer is 2 years (although in favorable environments, it can be 10-20), then the average population in the average environment will remain in relative stasis.

But hunting alters the environment. Instead of decreasing the deer population, it actually increases it.

As we established earlier, deer killing is not effective. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “Deer are highly prolific, and their high reproductive rate can quickly compensate for declines in their population. When deer numbers are reduced after killing programs, the remaining female deer will often respond to greater food abundance by giving birth to twins or triplets. Fawns also have higher survival rates and earlier onset of sexual maturity. The end result is a quick ‘bounce-back’ in numbers.”

A study by Richter & Labisky determined that the “incidence of twinning” increased from 14% in non-hunted herds to 38% in hunted herds.

So while the deer-killing program in Chapel Hill has decreased the original guesstimated herd of 591 by an average of 12 deer per year (2%), it may have increased the birth rate by 24%, or approximately 142 additional fawns per year. That amounts to a net increase of the herd in Chapel Hill of approximately 129 deer per year. After five years of deer killing, there are likely 649 additional deer in the Chapel Hill herd.

But wait a minute, surely the Chapel Hill Town Council didn’t know that the deer killing program would be so ineffective before they approved it, right? Nope. They knew.

According to an April 2010 article in the Independent Weekly, “Here’s what the town knows so far: …The population will renew within a year, even if it’s wiped out completely.”

 

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