Oh Deer: The Cruel, Cold-Blooded Truth About Urban Wildlife Management

“Deer are an edge species and the world is one big edge now.”

-Dr. McShea, wildlife biologist for the National Zoo (Revkin 2002)

One solution for an urban overpopulation of deer: reintroduce wolves, bears, and mountain lions into suburbia to naturally control the deer population with evolutionarily-tested and Mother-Nature-approved predator-prey relationships.  *NOTE: do not leave chubby babies unattended.

But wait!  We’ve altered nature so intensely that “naturally” is, in some ways, unnatural now.

Thus: the best actually-possible solution = fix the environment so that the urban and “natural” ecosystems coexist in the healthiest balance possible.  This may mean, at times, that a human assumes the vacant role of predator and vehicularly collides with a buck in the headlights, or purposely shoots a deer.  Yes, dead, PETA.  With cold, murderous bullets.  [Please skip to the end, depending on your current level of irateness.]

Backdrop: I was born and raised a vegetarian.  I’ve had two bites of meat in my life (one on accident; the other out of extreme pressure by prioritization of life values [AKA Peace Corps made me do it]). I am the cup-and-paper hero of trapped indoor spiders everywhere, the stick-wielding sidewalk savior of sunnysideup, legs-flailing beetles.  I would rather the tropic levels follow their requisite levels of consumption, and mountain lions eat deer, deer eat grasses, grasses eat sunshine, sans premeditated killing of any living being that doesn’t quite feel like dying yet.

Unfortunately, the pretty and efficient cascades of energy via tropic level consumption that naturally (historically) occur get thrown terribly out of whack when humans take the reins.

Consider Beaver Pond Park, New Haven, Connecticut.  The lovely volunteers in this park spend hours planting native shrubs, pulling invasive species, and advocating for protection of this historic wetland area.  Thanks to a network of stormwater pipes and a bit of poor planning, twice as much of the surrounding area drains to this spot as historically drained here.  Muck floats beside rainbow spills in a pond whose level is dependent on the amount of trash disintegrating in the stormwater catchment grate.  Suburban appreciation for the astounding water-cleansing properties of these wetlands they’re trashing?  No signs of it, past the hardy volunteers.

On top of the trash (literally, in places), Beaver Pond Park has seen a spike in deer populations in the past few years too.  Thanks, Suburbia: trash and displacement, too.  Fortunately, some sturdier fencing around recently-planted shrubs and a few motion censor lights may stop excessive browsing (nom-ing) and rubbing (of itchy velvet antlers on tree trunks) here and now.

Other parks, though, have seen an unhealthy spike.  Ecosystems around the world are screaming “Stop the noming! Take your Lyme-y ticks elsewhere!”   Or: silence.  (Rachel Carson shivers uncomfortably.)

In some cases of intense habitat loss, so many deer are funneled into the few green spaces left that they out-compete each other, becoming malnourished and underfed, with diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease passing rapidly in the overcrowded herds.  The humane decision, in this scenario, is either to demolish the newly developed homes and reconstruct versions of the wild spaces they once were.  Barring that?  Humanely kill enough deer to bring the population down to levels appropriate for the reduced green space.

(For the alternative-solution oriented folks: points for creativity, but deer are not cows.  [Though they do both have surprisingly good internal compasses.]  They cannot be herded and replaced without severe traumatic stress.)

There are government programs specifically involved with “deer culling.”   It can be done from elevated platforms onto baited sites, with professional sharpshooters and no threat to community members, with all meat donated to local homeless shelters.  The need for culls is even seen as a sign of success by some in the conservation world, with white-tailed deer once having been hunted almost to extinction.

For the Buddhists among us, deer birth control is an option too, which can be fed to females via baited sites.  Mmm, more delicious chemicals fed into the system.

None of these are good, 100% moral solutions.  How about we slowly reduce our own numbers over the next few generations and, if we expand, let’s do it upwards or inwards?  While we’re at it, since I’m not actively involved in advocating for large predator reintroduction, I will show respect for responsible hunters.  Join me in that, perhaps, or at least don’t blame Bambi when you collide with a buck while driving back from the sprawling mall downtown, right along the long winding driveway of your new suburban homes.

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