Beauty, annoyance or danger -- tackling issue of man vs. deer

With many area residents noticing an increase in the deer population, the issue of population control — not just how to control it, but also whether it is really needed — has become a topic of conversation of late. Discussion has already begun in Ocean View as to whether a controlled hunt is the answer.

“We don’t collect population data on that fine of a scale to tell you what Ocean View’s population is, versus Rehoboth, versus Gumboro, or something like that,” noted Joe Rogerson, deer and furbearer biologist for the State of Delaware’s Fish & Wildlife section.

“Over the past few years,” he said, “I have received an increased number of phone calls from constituents in Ocean View, relative to problems with deer.”

Rogerson said that there may be a disconnect between area’s cultural carrying capacity (the number of animals people are willing to tolerate) and the biological carrying capacity (the number of animals a habitat can support before they don’t have enough food and reproduction becomes hindered by poor body condition).

“Those two numbers may not be the same. The public may want more animals than the habitat can support,” he said. “It certainly seems to me that, for some residents, the cultural carrying capacity — the number of deer they are willing to have around their community — has been exceeded and that they would want the numbers reduced.”

Georgetown resident Crystal Lynch was recently in a deer-vehicle collision on Route 26 in Millville.

“I didn’t even see the deer. She came in through my driver’s window,” said Lynch. “I was heading up 26, and I was in front of McCarthy Stone, and the next thing, I felt a big boom, felt a loud explosion in my ear and looked down and saw that I was covered in glass and deer hair.”

Lynch said she has always been vigilant about looking out for deer in less-populated areas and was surprised by her accident on the main road in Millville.

“That’s the last place I would ever see a deer. I’m from Alabama. We’ve always been taught to watch for deer, and my husband’s a hunter, and I have never ever checked in that area, because it’s such a highly populated area.”

The initial estimate for damage done to her truck was $6,000, and Lynch herself had minor injuries.

“I have some cut marks where the glass embedded in my face and arm — my ear, too, because it all came right into my face. Everything on the left side got cut up, but it wasn’t too bad. They were superficial marks,” she said, adding that her face burned afterward and there had been a ringing in her ear.

Lynch said she has heard that more deer have been seen in the area lately and has even had friends who have had accidents in recent months.

“I have had people tell me, that live in this area, that they have seen a lot more in their yards and things like that that they normally don’t see,” she said. “Two of my closest friends — all three of us have had accidents in our vehicles with deer in the last four or five months. It’s really odd.”

“Dusk and dawn are the peak times for deer to be moving about. If you’re trying to avoid deer-vehicle collisions, pay extra caution during those timeframes,” advised Rogerson. “And during particular times of year — the early winter, October or November — are the peak season, because it’s breeding season.”

Rogerson said there are a number of ways people can try to control the deer population, such as through chemical repellants. But he noted that their application is time consuming and has varying degrees success.

“You could construct an 8- or 10-foot fence around your property, but all that would do is push the deer onto the neighbor’s property. It doesn’t do anything to address the problem of too many deer.”

Rogerson said that, although doing nothing would be an option for areas experiencing an increase in the deer population, he would recommend allowing controlled hunting in those areas instead.

“In theory, deer would have been controlled by black bears, by wolves that were on the East Coast, eastern cougars, that kind of stuff. These species have all been extirpated from Delaware,” he noted.

“My agency basically uses hunters and hunting to mimic the effects that these predators would have done to control the deer population,” he said. “Aside from cars or hunters, there’s really no other source of mortality on these deer.”

The State of Delaware restricts a hunter from hunting closer than 50 yards from a house when hunting with archery equipment or closer than 100 yards when hunting with a firearm.

He noted that towns may also have more restrictive ordinances, if they so choose.

Rogerson said there are ways to have a controlled hunt that would make it safe and manageable in a suburban area, but he noted that it is ultimately up to a town’s government.

“They are ever-increasing problems for us. Ocean View is a perfect example of this,” he said. “There are typically ordinances or restrictions against discharging a firearm, or flat out against hunting. That is our No. 1 tool for helping to reduce these human-wildlife conflicts, by removing deer so that we can alleviate some of the problems people are having.”