Posted by: silverstar98121 | January 3, 2009

Dear deer

It was a  confluence of many things. First I read “Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg. The subtitle gives you the gist, Life, Death and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators. Then there was Rambling Wood’s post with photos of deer browsing at her ground feeders. Then there was Daisy Fae’s aside about how many deer carcasses she and the kids counted on the way to Washington, DC. And I came to believe we need to reintroduce predators into our ecosystems, as they have in Yellowstone.

One of the thrusts of the book is that we are being over-run with deer. I have seen other authors call them “urban cattle” because they persist in large urban parks. But what harm could Bambi possibly do?

One of the sins we can lay at Disney’s feet is the “Aw, how cute” reaction to deer. Yeah, they’re cute, until you get lyme disease from a deer tick. Or they eat up your vegetable garden. Or they browse away rare wildflowers. The author notes that in the southern United States there are only two places where the once abundant lady slipper orchid now grows. One is behind an eight foot deer-proof fence. The other is on a cliff so steep the scientist who studies them has to rappel down.

So I look at Rambling Wood’s photos, and instead of thinking “how cute”, I think “those deer are way too close to humans, and not afraid enough.” Because there are no wolves. And hunting is closely regulated. They have lost their fear of us. And of other predators.

Consider for instance, the fact that deer season is only for a couple of months a year. And we hunt upside down. Instead of taking the weak, old and sickly,  as predators would,  we hunt for the buck with the big antlers, the cream of the crop. So that guy gets taken out of the gene pool, and some inferior buck gets the harem. We don’t allow the shooting of does, despite the fact that there are a lot more does in a herd than bucks.

Deer herds, without predators, are getting out of control. They are so out of control that several years ago they had meetings all over Pennsylvania trying to sell thinning the herds. Some of the most strident objectors were hunters. Apparently, we humans have gotten lazy. When we “hunt”, we want to sit in a deer blind, with some corn at the bottom, and shoot Bambi. We don’t want to walk too far, or have to actually stalk our prey. Since they couldn’t sell the hunters on thinning the herds with extended hunting seasons, they ended up thinning the herds at night, with police sharpshooters wearing ninja suits and using silenced rifles.

The only relatively large predator that persists in the US is the coyote. The wily beast is everywhere, including in Seattle. One researcher in Southern California, noted that there was a decrease of songbirds in the chapparel, except in one section, where there were coyotes living. Why was that?,  you might ask.  The answer was that the coyotes were keeping down the number of a smaller predator that was preying on the songbirds.  One known around the world as felis cattus domesticus. Yes, the house cat.

So, do I think we should bring back the wolves? Hell, yes, especially in places like Washington state, where we have large areas of wilderness.  In other places which are more crowded, and not likely to buy into that stratagem, perhaps we can change our hunting laws to keep the herds down. Maybe have a lottery to hunt year-round. Perhaps allow more does to be hunted.

In any case, I think you should read the book. It’s interesting to see the changes that have come about since wolves have come back to Yellowstone.


  1. Having lived in both Mendocino County, which is overrun with deer, and Shasta County, which has a large number of coyotes and lots fewer deer, I can say from my own experience that coyotes keep the deer population in check. I agree completely–reintroduce predators to the American landscape and change the hunting laws. Bambi in real life is anything but cute.

  2. seems the preservationists really like cute animals more than possum. i see just as many dead racoons and possum on the roads – but they aren’t big enough to wreck a minivan full of kids, so they’re not the threat…

    the deer need to go. if we don’t want to shoot ’em all (and use the meat to feed the homeless) then we could poison them, or neuter them….

  3. I agree Mark, coyotes can keep deer down, but not as well as wolves. They are too small. Wolves and cougars are what we need. And maybe the ability for hungry people to go hunt some food. If things get worse economically in this country, poaching may be the answer.

    Daisy Fae- not ALL of them, but a goodly amount. About 3/4 of them I reckon. Neutering I would go for, but not poisoning.
    Raccoons and possums bring their own problems. Coons get in houses, and rabies is endemic in them in the US. And the little bastards darlings used to eat all the seed out of my bird feeders, and then pound on the door demanding a snack when I lived in Colorado Springs. I heard a noise one night when I lived in Bellingham, and found a possum on my back porch munching on a couple Christmas cookies I had dropped. I want the little darlings afraid of me, not looking to me for a handout.

  4. This is a challenging point of view for me. Thanks for sharing- I’ll go and cogitate on this a bit and see where it gets me.

  5. Recent evidence in the global media has, I think, adequately demonstrated how “good” humans are at managing things. So it comes as no surprise at how badly the deer population in North America has been “managed”.

    The wolves in Yellowstone came from Canada. I’ve read accounts in the news that ranchers in the area were not pleased with that move (and continue to be not pleased, coupled with threats to kill any wolf on sight). And yet, they are an important part of the overall balance of things.

    Up here, there are draw licences available to take antlerless deer (i.e. does). My dad used to love to go out to Saskatchewan to hunt deer as, back then, each hunter could get tags for something like three deer – antlered or antlerless.

    Deer ticks and other parasites run rampant with deer. I recall a story from a while back where there was a desire to bring back elk to an area of the northeast as they had been hunted to extinction in the previous century. Some elk were imported from Eastern Canada but they did not really survive. In the interim, deer had moved into areas formerly populated by elk and the new immigrant elk could just not compete.

    Driving through the Dakotas and Minnesota is always a dicey proposition, especially at night, due to the increased opportunity for a vehicle – deer collision. I’ve seen many carcasses and blood sprays, but fortunately I’ve never made solid contact with one. Closest was the time a deer decided to cross highway 15 as we were coming out of Edmonton one night. I braked hard and swerved and slowed down enough that my van simply delivered a gentle tap to the ass end of the deer. No damage to the van at all.

    I agree that the deer need to be thinned somewhat, although personally I’ve never cared for the flavour of venison.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Perhaps I can find time this year to read that one.

    Good post Silverstar.

  6. I was surprised to see my post mentioned here. I wanted to let you know that the deer are very afraid here and I was hiding behind a curtain to take the photos. I usually have all the food picked up before the deer would come at dusk so it was unusual to have one come prior to dusk.

    Regarding poison. We have lost raptors due to rodents being poisoned and the same would have with deer. The animals that would feed on the deer would die too.

    But the biggest problem with deer is man. We keep taking their habitat away, making them fit into smaller and smaller areas. The big predators like wolves are not going to be welcome into the suburbs, people get upset enough if they see a coyote. Even with that many fawns are taken by predators even in the suburbs.

    I live in a deer area, therefore I don’t plant things that deer eat and I won’t feel sorry for people who do. Just like the folks that have koi ponds and get upset when a heron eats them.

    In NY state, you can’t feed deer and they take that very seriously. The hunting season is almost a month long and many deer are taken.

    I agree with wolves in any are that was once natural, but talk with cattle farmers and they won’t agree.

    I am not a totally lug-headed tree hugger, I try to be responsible about what I post and provide good information that I carefully research. But if you don’t agree, leave a comment on my blog where I can’t find it please.

  7. Please don’t visit my liberal, preservationist, tree hugging blog again..thanks…

    I’m totally, positively floored by this. I am a liberal, preservationist, tree-hugger, too. Part of preserving the trees is to keep deer from browsing on saplings. Even in wilderness areas like Yellowstone, when they are overrun with deer, the the biodiversity of the flora, and the fauna changes. I was not attacking you, Michelle, nor do I believe you regularly feed the deer, I just think they are too bold to come that close to where man is. There are just too many deer. I won’t argue that we are encroaching on their habitat, but, there are still too many deer. Unless you lock everybody up in downtown apartments, we are going to encroach on their habitat. The fact remains, however, that they breed like bunnies when they are not hunted by predators. No way would I advocate re-releasing predators in civilized areas, but there are programs to compensate the ranchers for any losses where the wolves are in Yellowstone. Deer near civilization will have to be dealt with another way. I agree with you that poison is out. It causes too many problems.
    Please, if you get a chance, read the book. It will explain to you that a lot of the songbird species that are decreasing are doing so because the deer are killing their habitat. Especially for ground-dwelling birds. If man is going to be the apex predator, he needs to do a better job of keeping the numbers of deer at a reasonable level so they aren’t killing all the wildflowers, and the saplings, and thus killing the habitat for other creatures. Balance in all things.

  8. Now that I have cooled off…You are welcome to post anything you want on your blog. But you highlighted and therefore directed people to my blog to demonstrate the deer problem. My post was not about feeding the deer, but it made it look like I was.

    I do know that deer in suburban areas are a problem and that they over browse and destroy young forest regrowth. But the deer here are not habituated to humans at all and the hunting is not so far away from here. Hunters and predators do take many deer.

    You caught me on a day when I drove down the road to see two large tracts of forest area cut down to be make into two strip malls. I was heartbroken as we don’t need another damn strip mall.

    This will only make a problem worse. Also last summer somebody decided to take the Canada goose problem into their own hands and shoot them on our pond. Yes, they are a problem, but dragging the dead and dying geese out of the pond was a lot for my husband and I to deal with.

    So..I think we do need to manage wildlife better, but we also need to manage out need for space better…Sorry, I was so upset when I saw this after seeing the forest land cut down.

    • Michelle-I understand. I’ve watched Washington state grow, cut down trees,
      and build stuff I’ve thought could have been done without for 20 years now.
      The drive from here to Bellingham is difficult because there is always a new
      tract of farmland lost, or a new grove of trees cut down.
      I remember you writing about the goose incident. I thoroughly understand
      about Canadian goose crap. It’s a major problem in our parks here. But
      shooting them and then leaving them in the pond…Just gross and
      No problems. We all have our bad days. I don’t think you feed the deer, I
      just think they are rather bold.

  9. We were thinking about moving to Austin, TX some years back. Went over there, looked at house and I noticed there weren’t any flowers.
    If there were some, they had nets around them.
    The Realtor said the deer come out and eat them all.
    One evening while we were driving through the hills there, a deer jumped out in front of us and we almost hit him. All I could think was, “One of my kids is going to get into a wreck because of all these deer in the road.
    We decided against moving there mostly because of that.

  10. yep, we’re way to big on anthropomorphizing little bambi so that we’re afraid to kill them. out thisaway, some of the neighbors of The Wilds of Ohio sponsor herd thinning, allowing killing of deer way over the limit and without restriction of doe or buck. a necessary thing. i almost wrote “necessary evil”, but all that’s been said is true about the destructiveness of the cute, fuzzy, little beasties.

    Venison – it’s what’s for dinner…

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