Deer Advisor: Help for Communities Grappling with Abundant Deer Populations

November 30, 2016

White-tailed deer grazing on a street in Austin's Northwest Hills. Photo © micklpickl / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

The Nature Conservancy and Cornell University have launched Community Deer Advisor, a free online resource for communities seeking information about managing overabundant deer populations.

Dr. Daniel Decker, professor and director of the Human Dimensions Research Unit at Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources, and Dr. Meredith Cornett, director of conservation science at The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, shed some light on the issue communities are facing and how the new tool can help them find solutions.

Q: Why are more deer showing up in cities, suburbs and exurbs these days?


Deer are adaptable animals that will seek food and refuge wherever environmental conditions provide them. Urban, suburban and exurban areas are attractive to deer for many reasons. They provide green spaces with plants deer can eat, include plantings around homes and other grounds, and provide protection from harassment by people, dogs (leash laws) and natural predators. State wildlife agencies often manage for abundant deer, a popular game species in many places. Deer first moved from farm and forest into adjacent suburban areas. They have since continued to journey into even more urbanized areas where their needs can be met. Their ability to become habituated to the presence of humans has proved remarkable.

Q: Is this a widespread issue across the U.S. or just localized to certain parts of the country?


Deer taking up residence in urban and suburban areas is occurring across their range in the U.S. and Canada. Wherever conditions indicated above can be found, deer will oblige by staking a claim to the favorable habitat, sometimes reaching densities unheard of in “natural” areas—often many times more deer per unit area than historically found in rural farm and forest landscapes or “natural” environments.

Q: What challenges are deer creating for people and communities?


Deer are causing challenges for human residents of exurban, suburban and urban communities because their presence in such areas leads to unwanted ornamental plant damage, motor vehicle collisions and occasional physical threats (personal safety). Deer also bring ticks and other insects and parasites that host diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever into human-dominated landscapes, where people become exposed to them. This creates a desire among many members of communities to at least control, if not completely eradicate deer from their community. At the same time, deer are valued by many people who enjoy observing them—even some wanting to attract them by artificially feeding them. This range of human responses to the presence of deer can and often does create a tense situation for community leaders and members.

Q: Are deer also posing challenges to natural landscapes?


In many areas of the country, abundant deer have transformed the species composition and structure of woodlands. This has happened because deer preferentially feed on some favored plants and leave others untouched, thereby creating opportunities for some species to thrive at the expense of others. This change, occurring across large areas, has also had impacts on other wildlife. For example, in some places, deer have obliterated low woody plants used by nesting birds. Deer also keep some trees (such as ash, maple and oak) trimmed to the ground, depriving birds and mammals of their acorns and other nuts, which are important food sources. Deer themselves feel the effects of this change in the forest, where they have essentially limited regeneration of their own favored foods, leaving them less food-producing plants in the long run.

Q: What are some of the ways communities are dealing with issues caused by deer?


The responses of human communities to the presence of deer in their midst vary. Some proceed very tentatively because of the potential for controversy, knowing that deer issues have become divisive for some communities. Some are finding less resistance to management possibilities and are relying on community members to remove deer through regulated culling. Others have hired the services of people who specialize in deer removal from urban areas.

Q: What does the Community Deer Advisor tool provide that could help them?


The Community Deer Advisor does a few things that we hope communities will find helpful. First, it lays out a process called “community-based deer management,” which unfolds in most communities that find they have a deer issue. Spelling out these stages in the life cycle of an issue helps community leaders and others understand that, in fact, their community can expect to go through a process—it’s typical. The needs of a community at each stage are identified, which helps leaders anticipate what’s next. The tool also directs users to resources about community-based deer management—recommendations and details about various techniques, a library of community examples, and more. Additionally, it connects users to other communities that have experienced or are currently working through deer management. It is intended to facilitate networking.

Join the Discussion

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  1. “We take habitat away from wild animals and then kill them for invading ‘our’ space.” – Patrick Edwards

    “When there are too many human beings in a given area, we make way for them. When there are too many wild – or stray – animals, we kill them.” – Diane Adams

    Humane Wildlife Control Association – Promoting Nonlethal Methods of Resolving Wildlife Problems http://www.humanewildlifecontrol.org/

    Wild Neighbors Program Launched to Assist Cities Handle Urban Wildlife Conflicts Humanely http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2016/05/wild-neighbors-launched-assist-cities-handle-wildlife-conflicts.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

  2. Humans built a home on top of a deer home. What do you expect? They ate your shrub? They have to find their food outside and you provided it. Just relax and enjoy their beauty. Oh, and plant another forest for them.

  3. Bring back the natural predators. Stop expanding into the forest areas. We humans have created this problem and need to rethink how we live with the wild. #wildlife

  4. The Community Deer Advisor offers a process that makes room for the full breadth of opinions about deer—including, but not limited to, those expressed above. We envision communities where both people and deer can thrive. Getting there requires three P’s: Process, Patience and Persistence. Establishing trust in the four-step community-based deer management process—and perhaps more importantly between those leading and participating in that process—is critical to balancing the needs of deer, people and natural habitats. Please visit the Deer Advisor for tips and tools: https://deeradvisor.dnr.cornell.edu/

  5. I see the deer problem as being due to developers driving not only deer from wooded areas where the deer and other wildlife live. I have seen so many more deer and other animal roadkill in the past year than ever before. Of course the city I live in has put in 10 new housing developments in the past 3 years – I wish there was a way to require developers to create a wildlife refuge somewhere near the development where the wildlife could continue to live undisturbed. I don’t like the fact that this year our community is allowing people who own a bow and arrow to be allowed to shoot the deer if in their yards. Any suggestions for resolving these problems.

  6. Evasive jargon.
    Adult white tailed deer are shot and killed here between the ages of 1.5 and 2 years, leaving does to give birth as teenagers essentially when they themselves have not had a full year of parental guidance. At the same time, the parents’ early demise leaves fawns to fend for themselves over their very first winter, without having the important twelve month cycle of learning from the parent. Consequently, they may not forage selectively, be prepared for drought, unknowledgeable about springs water sources, find shelter during winter, form herds of three or more, consequently be more anxious, make poor decisions and so on.

    Most communities act on zero data, as does this society in general. A true head count must be made before a blueprint for action is taken. Numbers of deer are by and large overestimated by the governments through rumors and hunters. A hunting license to kill wildlife costs five dollars. No supervision or tabulation of gender, age, location, species is taken by the DEC on eastern Long Island.
    No data which could be useful for the following year.

    Many collisions take place because drivers have a low level of consciousness behind the wheel. A white car is preferred as it is proven to be more visible to other drivers and wildlife. Because of genetic memory, a deer can calculate speeds similar to a predator’s, such as the speed a bear runs which can be up to 25 to 35 miles per hour. Cars traveling 50-60 are moving too fast to calculate. Speed limits should be lowered in areas where traffic has significantly increased over the last decades when speed postings were first regulated, for fewer people, less aggressive drivers and smaller vehicles. Also driving w parking lights on is helpful. While deer do not see well, in most instances, particularly in wooded areas, white is visible against green foliage and a speed of 30 mph can be “understood.”
    Deer feeding on birdseed – a nice mix of shelled peanut halves, shelled sunflower seeds – mix does not draw rodents because there is no waste – and millet, the latter of which they will eat if really hungry – will
    leave most cultivated plants alone because they prefer the balance of rich proteins and fats to their basic leafy diet.
    The fruit and nut trees of historic diets are unavailable due to contractors’ habitual practice of leveling all vegetation at the start of a housing project. A simple local or statewide government regulation requiring a ring of native plants be left in place around the periphery of the parcel before clearing for development, would help these grazing animals, who want to move through a feeding area…
    munch and move on.
    There are several actions that can take place before killing large mammals. There are many of us who like to see intelligent options put into place as a first response.