Our Herd of Deer

A fawn in August, grazing along the Colonial Parkway

A fawn in August, grazing along the Colonial Parkway

Have you ever felt as though someone were watching you?  I stood up from working on the new border of our stump garden and sure enough, I was being watched.  She was lovely, as tall as some of my petite friends, and absolutely fearless.  She stood there in the arch of the trellis, between the roses, watching intently.  Her large brown eyes accessing me, noticing that I was unarmed.

For days now, she, her friends, and her children, have been unwelcome visitors in the garden by day and by night.  Hungry and bold, they have tested the boundaries, finding the weak spots where they can push through the fence.  We hear them running through the ravine and roaming the neighbors’ woods.  When they find a way in, they feast on the garden; stripping leaves from branches and leaving in their wake deep hoof prints in the moist ground and piles of foul smelling scat as their calling card.

Deer graced this Heuchera, growing here close to the house for the last several years, one afternoon last week.

Deer grazed this Heuchera, growing here close to the house for the last several years, one afternoon last week.

A local farmer, who has managed the deer on his property his entire life, explained that they are especially hungry this year.  It seems that our acorn crop is much smaller than usual.  He told us that normally the deer in his area keep to the woods, feasting on acorns and other nuts this time of year.  There aren’t enough acorns to feed them this year, and so they have been wandering into his yard and garden.  Our acorn crop was devastated in early summer, and I haven’t seen a single one drop to the ground this year.  Mature oaks fell in storms all across our neighborhood, and so our herd is hungry.

Notice the leaves missing from this jalapeno pepper plant.

Notice the leaves missing from this jalapeno pepper plant.

I stood up and walked across the yard towards the peaceful doe, telling her she needed to leave.  It wasn’t until I was nearly close enough to touch her that she turned and ran down the hill, looking for another opportunity to graze in the cover of the fig trees.  Finally, I chased her out of the garden and  into the ravine; her partner following her progress from the other side of the fence.  In less than an hour, another doe and her fawn had wriggled through, and were quietly munching the shrubs.  When I came after them they panicked, running in circles, kicking up the mulch with their hooves, wildly looking for a way out.  They leapt  over a great mound of Forsythia like flying reindeer, tore through the side yard, and disappeared  into the ravine.

The deer live in the wooded ravines in our neighborhood, and are drawn to the lakes to drink.

The deer live in the wooded ravines in our neighborhood, and are drawn to the lakes to drink.

Both of us human gardeners have spent hours these last few days trying to reinforce the deer fences, filling the tiny holes where the deer have wiggled through.   Our neighborhood herd has multiplied again this year.

White tail deer, while beautiful and fun to watch, present a problem in neighborhoods across Virginia- including in ours.

Azalea, severely grazed by deer.

Azalea, severely grazed by deer.  Notice the pile of scat behind this shrub.

Though many in the neighborhood love the Bambis and wish them no harm,  there are excellent reasons to encourage deer harvesting by qualified bow-hunters who help manage the deer population.  One of the most compelling reasons, especially for environmentalists and those of us who would never hunt ourselves, is the well being of the herd as a whole.  Deer roam over huge areas, are excellent swimmers, and thrive in a variety of habitats.  They have few natural predators (none in our area), so we need an ongoing program to manage herds as they roam through the neighborhood to and from adjacent areas.

If you are an animal lover, and are ready to turn away from this subject and move on; please stay with me and consider the difficult facts of the issue:

  1. The  white tail deer population can double annually.  Females begin breeding in their second year, usually having 2-4 fawns per year.  Females may breed for up to 10 consecutive years.  According to The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, we have a larger deer population in Virginia now than when the first colonists arrived in the early 17th Century.
  2. Deer bring ticks, which carry Lyme disease and other serious diseases.  The ticks drop off of the deer into the vegetation in our yards, and then find their way back onto pets, children, and adults.  These tick bites have the potential to cause serious diseases which can incapacitate anyone who doesn’t get prompt treatment.  A number of our neighbors have developed Lyme disease from tick bites.
  3. Deer are a serious hazard to bike riders and motorists.    They jump out suddenly from yards and wooded areas into the path of vehicles, especially in the late autumn and winter when rutting bucks are pursuing females.  They cause expensive damage to vehicles and can cause serious injury to the driver and passengers.
  4. Deer destroy habitat and food supplies for other animals.  Deer are mainly herbivores, and will eat a wide variety of vegetation including leaves, twigs, fruit, acorns, and grasses.  When populations are large, they strip whatever vegetation they can reach, consuming food and destroying habitat needed by song birds and other small mammals.  Bears have wandered into urban areas this autumn looking for food, because the deer have eaten what is available. Grazing deer often kill small shrubs and trees so the woodland habitat is destroyed and never allowed to re-grow.
  5. Deer destroy crops planted by humans.  Anyone attempting to grow a small garden as food for their family knows that unfenced crops will be destroyed overnight by hungry deer.  Deer also eat the fruit and leaves off of residential fruit trees.
  6. Deer do millions of dollars of damage annually to residential landscaping, eating both newly planted trees, shrubbery, and flowers; and more established trees and shrubs.  As the deer population grows, and they become more desperate for food, they damage even large, well established shrubbery such as azaleas, camellias, hollies, and hydrangea.  Those who love gardening face constant frustration as their plantings are consumed by hungry deer.  Planting “deer resistant” shrubs and perennials doesn’t help when hungry deer turn to vegetation they would normally never eat.
  7. Deer damage lawns and the slopes of ravines with their pawing and walking on soft, wet, ground.  They leave scat in residential yards, which carries a variety of harmful bacteria.  Bucks rub the bark off of trees to mark their territory.  The herd wears paths through the areas where they frequently run.
  8.    As the deer population grows, and food dwindles, deer develop a variety of diseases, such as chronic wasting disease, bovine tuberculosis, and hemorrhagic disease.  They have insufficient food and are hungry.  Winter is difficult on the herd when there is a large concentration of deer, and more damage to the habitat destroys food supplies for other small animals.
  9. Male deer become aggressive during rutting season, and pose a danger to pets and people.  A fully grown male deer can weigh up to 300 lbs.  They run at nearly 40 m.p.h., and can jump over 8 feet high.

    Deer living in the National Park easily travel through ours, and many other neighborhoods.

    Deer living in the National Park easily travel through many nearby  neighborhoods.

  10. Deer are an important source of food.  Hunters For the Hungry  provided 1.6 million servings of food to hungry Virginians in 2010.  They harvested 407,796 lbs. of meat from deer in Virginia humanely, had the meat processed professionally, and distributed it through local food banks and other non-profit organizations who feed the hungry.  Their goal is to provide 500,000 lbs. of meat to hungry families in Virginia annually.  Hunters working in our neighborhood donate the deer they harvest, so hungry families have meat, and our deer population is managed responsibly.

If you live in a neighborhood with a herd of deer, and have been opposed to responsible bow hunting to thin the herd, please reconsider.  Not only is the meat needed by hungry families right here in our own community, thinning the herd makes it possible for those left to become healthier and find the food they need to survive.  With winter coming, and food sources lower than normal, our herd is already hungry and bold.  Gardening is stewardship of the land and of the natural resources nature provides.  Our neighborhood hunter helps maintain the balance for all of us living in the forest.

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

One response to “Our Herd of Deer

  1. Pingback: Jumble Spoiler – 10/30/13 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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