Is Deer Killing Effective?

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

Assertion 4: “While several options exist for managing the density of deer herds, studies have found that the least expensive and most effective method is through culling programs, often focusing on an urban archery program that can be tailored to a community and also provide food to people in need.” [page 38]

Again, although there are three footnotes at the bottom of page 38, none of them references any studies regarding options for “managing” the density of deer herds, or the expense or effectiveness of such “options.” Instead, it leads readers straight to the real purpose of “managing” deer: opening up opportunities to kill for fun, topped off with the latest marketing gimmick: we can also “provide food to people in need.”

And again, this assertion begins with the disingenuous notion that deer herds need to be “managed.” As we established earlier, wildlife management is a euphemism for killing for fun.

So far, the task force presented two unproven hypotheses:

  1. The deer in Carrboro are overpopulated.
  2. The deer herd in Carrboro needs to be managed.

They then propose a solution to these unproven hypotheses: allow humans armed with bows and arrows to kill deer inside the town limits, and feed the corpses to “people in need.”

As we know, political decisions aren’t often based on science, but on lobbying and other forms of persuasion. We can assume that the hunting lobby has already persuaded some people who think of themselves as environmentalists that deer are “overpopulated” and need to be “managed.” Let’s assume that those people are able to convince the Carrboro Board of Aldermen that the deer are “overpopulated” and need to be “managed.” Are culling programs the “least expensive and most effective” “option” for accomplishing this “management”?

According to the Humane Society of the United States, no.

“Deer kills do not keep deer numbers down.

“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.

“To be successful, a killing program must not only significantly reduce the deer herd, it must sustain enough pressure to prevent this bounce-back effect, while also preventing deer from the surrounding area from wandering in. All of this usually poses an insurmountable challenge in most urban and suburban communities.

“In addition, safety-mandated restrictions often limit where and how hunters can shoot. It isn’t safe to hunt in most suburban areas where deer are causing conflicts, because there are too many people and too much human activity. It’s no surprise that many suburban deer kills—no matter what target level is set—end up killing very few deer, after which the population quickly recovers and bounces back to its previous level.”

And what about providing “food to people in need”?

We checked the needs list at IFC, which provides food for local people in need. There is no need for deer flesh.

According to Gary Yourofsky, “When price and volume are taken into consideration, it’s far more effective feeding hungry people rice, beans, vegetables and tofu. Thank goodness the world’s two largest feed-the-hungry organizations—Plenty and Food for Life Global—understand this and only use vegetarian/vegan food.

People who are in need want food that is familiar to them and that is easy to prepare. Many urban and suburban dwellers have never tasted, and do not know how to prepare, deer flesh. “Venison has a little different smell, and people who aren’t familiar with it might think that it’s ground beef, but it might be going bad or something,” says Elaine Livas, the executive director of a food pantry in Connecticut. “We don’t want the food to be wasted.”

Finally, a large percentage of urban deer are infected with toxoplasmosis, so people with HIV/AIDS, those undergoing chemotherapy or taking imunosuppressants, and pregnant women should avoid handling deer flesh.

Carrboro Energy and Climate Protection Task Force Recommends Deer Cull

deerThe Carrboro Energy and Climate Protection Task Force released its Community Climate Action Plan on November 4, 2015, which was presented to the Board of Aldermen on November 10, 2015.

Among their many recommendations, the Task Force stated the following:

“Local and other studies have shown that excess deer are adversely affecting the health of our forests by causing a decrease in plant diversity and aiding in the spread of exotic species. Soil studies have shown that the seed stores in areas with deer overpopulation are shifting from native wildflowers and woody plants to invasive plants and grasses. This threatens the ability of our forests to regenerate in a healthy way and continue to serve as diverse ecosystems and significant carbon sinks.  Deer overpopulation needs to be better managed to reduce negative impacts on forest regeneration and ecosystem health and biodiversity. While several options exist for managing the density of deer herds, studies have found that the least expensive and most effective method is through culling programs, often focusing on an urban archery program that can be tailored to a community and also provide food to people in need. Such programs have been safely and successfully implemented in Duke Forest, Chapel Hill, and many other towns in North Carolina. The Task Force recommends that Carrboro implement its own program to protect our forests from an expanding deer population that is too large now and may grow.” [page 38]

“Ecosystem Recommendation #2: Pursue Deer Herd Management [page 42]
“Studies have shown that excess deer are adversely affecting the health of our forests by overgrazing, causing a decrease in plant diversity, and aiding in the spread of exotic species. The current deer herd population is probably on the order of 5-10 times the optimal size for overall ecosystem health. The least expensive and most effective method for deer herd management is through culling programs, often focusing on an urban archery program that can be tailored to a community and also provide food to people in need. Such programs have been safely and successfully implemented in Duke Forest, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, Pittsboro and many other towns in North Carolina. While culling can be seen as a safety issue, there have been no documented archery related accidents in NC for the past 40 years.

“The NC Wildlife Resources Commission and others are available to advise the Town about the feasibility of creating a program that is tailored to the needs of Carrboro and addresses all concerns. The Task Force therefore recommends that Carrboro reopen the consideration of implementing its own deer herd management program to reduce negative impacts on forest regeneration and ecosystem health and biodiversity and protect our forests from an expanding deer population that is too large now and may grow. Specifically, the Task Force recommends that the Town consider submitting a letter of intent to participate in the Urban Archery Season program of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Implementation Opportunities

    • A reduced/better managed deer population would:
      • Allow young trees and shrubs to grow, ensuring the continued existence of the forest and an increase in biodiversity;
      • Slow or stop the conversion of seed stores from native wildflowers and grasses to invasive species;
      • Improve the overall health of the deer population;
      • Decrease the incidence of deer/vehicle collisions
      • Provide food to people in need

Implementation Challenges

    • Contraceptives are expensive ($600-800/doe) and only work when the deer population is isolated and does not have an opportunity to migrate in or out of a given area.
    • Sterilization is expensive ($800-1,000/doe) and is currently not legal in North Carolina.
    • Culling deer herds is an emotional issue, despite clear science that shows deer herd management results in a healthier deer population, produces a more intact forest ecosystem, and has a positive impact on other wildlife species.
    • Culling is also a safety issue in the eyes of law enforcement, even though there have been no documented archery-related accidents in NC for the past 40 years.
    • A well-conceived and well-implemented public outreach and education campaign will require Board and staff approval and effort. This campaign is needed to get public buy-in, ensuring that citizens understand the purpose of, and need for, managing the deer population.
    • Resources Needed (human and material)
      • Administrative support from Town Staff with help from the Environmental Advisory Board.
      • Advice/guidance from other locales with an effective program already inplace (e.g., Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, Pittsboro, and Duke Forest) and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
      • Promotional and educational materials.
    • Leadership
      • Policy leadership by the Board of Alderman.
      • Administrative support from existing Town Staff and the Environmental Advisory Board.
      • Partners
        • Town of Chapel Hill
        • Carolina North Forest Management
        • NC Wildlife Federation
        • Duke Forest
      • Fit with Items
        • Tree Coalition
        • Invasive Plant Management
      • Time Frame
        • Urban archery season is in the fall.
        • A decision could be made as to whether to look into for the fall of 2016 or 2017.
      • Next Step(s)
        1. Examine nearby urban archery plans. In particular, examine means for addressing public input, notification, and safety.
        2. Write up a draft urban archery plan.
        3. Craft public outreach and education campaign about negative impacts of deer overpopulation, benefits of deer herd management, and how an urban archery program would work.
        4. Board of Aldermen decide on public input process.
        5. Submit letter of intent to participate in the Urban Archery Season to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
        6. Finalize urban archery plan
        7. Implement urban archery season.
      • Evaluation Criteria
        • Number of deer culled and reduction of deer per square mile.
        • Improved health of deer population.
        • Reduction in number of deer-vehicle collisions.
        • Return of forest understory (increase in native flora, decrease in exotic species, and increase in plant and animal biodiversity).
        • Reduced loss of crops, gardens, and planted ornamentals.