When you see a deer do you think Bambi or Big-Pain-in-the-Hide? One thing is for sure, you're seeing them more often. According to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) the state's deer population has increased from about 670,000 in 1984 to more than 1.25 million in 2007.
But when animal populations skyrocket, they start to impact human populations and that's not always a good thing.
Consider these statistics:
- Based on State Farm data, North Carolina car/deer accidents jumped by 33 percent between 2007 and 2009.
- According to the NC Department of Transportation, Wake County has the highest number of animal-related collisions. Statewide, from 2004 through 2006, encounters involving deer resulted in almost 3,000 injuries to motorists including 17 fatalities.
- A 2009 article from the North Carolina Medical Board states, "Tick populations are growing in our state along with suburbanization and the deer population. Deer serve as hosts to the lone star and black-legged ticks." Our Piedmont region has one of the highest incidences of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the country. And we have high incidences of other tick-borne infections as well.
These troubling facts don't even begin to cover the ecological impact of the deer or the thousands and thousands of dollars of destroyed landscaping in public and private gardens. (By the way, you may want to check out our User Answers for the best local ideas for deer control in your garden.)
Based on these concerns, the idea of controlled deer culling is surfacing more and more around Raleigh-Durham in neighborhood association meetings, at city council and within the University communities. In case you're not familiar with this politically correct term for deer control, culling is the act of bringing in hunters to kill a specific number of deer either with hunting bows or with guns.
Duke Forest officials estimate the deer population within the forest is about 80 per square mile. The forest's Resource Manager, James Edeburn, says that number is about four times what is acceptable in order to preserve the forest's viability as a research envirnoment. To manage the problem, Duke has taken steps to reduce the deer herd on multiple occasions since 2005 using local, trained hunting groups working under NCWRC guidelines.
According to Edeburn, "Similar herd reductions have been conducted in Biltmore Forest, Bald Head Island and Nags Head in North Carolina as well as at a number of locations in other states. Hunting also takes place in a number of other research forests, including those of NC State, Cornell, Yale and Harvard universities."
Duke's decision to reduce the population was made with the research needs of the university in mind and data from several ecological impact surveys. Other communities are finding the decision-making process more difficult and in many cases more emotional.
Opponents of hunting as a means of deer control cite the solution as immoral, inhumane or just plain dangerous. They argue for tactics such as deer-resistant landscaping, deer contraception and 8-foot fences. However, none of these methods has shown to make a significant reduction in the kind of statistics mentioned at the top of this article. Reducing the population, on the other hand, has documented success in reducing the number of deer accidents as well as the cost of clean up. (Google "deer culling reduces deer accidents" for reports from multiple communities.) Additional research is required to determine the impact on the spread of tick-borne diseases.
A proposal for deer hunting inside Governor's Club, a large gated community in northern Chatham County, ignited a firestorm. Almost two years of task-force work, study and debate commenced before the issue could even be brought to vote. The deer reduction program was ultimately approved, but a steady stream of vocal opposition on the subject continued to appear in local letters to the editor.
The subject of deer culling caused a similar community divide in Fearrington, a retirement community between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro. Again more than two years of study and discussion ensued. Their process resulted in the decision not to cull, but instead focus on deer-resistant landscaping, attractive fencing, and a request that no-one in the community actively attract the deer by setting up feeding stations.
Recently, the Chapel Hill Town Council heard statements from several neighborhoods pleading for deer relief. They voted 8-1 to apply for a 2011 archery permit from the NCWRC, but stopped short of approval for culling pending a public hearing with ecologists, residents and archers.
It is clear from the differences in decision making and outcomes in these situations that the subject of deer culling is one that spurs passionate discourse. But the deer problem is here to stay, so this controversial subject will be under debate for some time to come.