Deer Season: Deer Management Requires Cooperation

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Many people have seen deer inside the city of Jamestown. Here is one of several the author has seen. (Photo by Steve Sorensen)

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

The uneasy truce between deer and humans will end in New York with the opening of the firearms deer season, 30 minutes before sunrise on Saturday, November 20. Of course “truce” isn’t really the right word. Archery season opened at the beginning of October, and deer never agree to a truce whether hunters are pursuing them or not. In fact, deer are on the offensive where hunters don’t pursue them. They’re bringing the battle to us, a battle we don’t want to fight, on ground where we don’t want to fight.

City Deer

In Jamestown and environs deer are a hot topic, hot enough that the Jamestown City Council has discussed whether to allow deer hunting within the city limits. Thus far that hasn’t been permitted, and deer keep doing what’s normal and natural. They adapt to new territory that offers safety and food sources.

Although deer are beautiful, they are also a problem among the houses, parks and woodlots in residential areas. Whenever any city has a deer problem, the same unproductive solutions are re-studied, re-debated, and re-proposed.

Deer Resistant Plants — Deer diminish property values because they eat expensive landscaping. Deer-resistant shrubbery is not always an answer because it’s costly, labor intensive, and addresses only part of the problem. If deer want to be in your yard, they’ll find something to eat, and will sometimes devour things they’d be less likely to eat elsewhere.

When deer move from yard to yard, they pose a risk of collision with cars. Insurance rates rise along with property damage, injuries and even deaths. Careful driving helps, but it doesn’t prevent every accident.

Birth Control — Birth control is expensive and effective only in rare situations. Birth control is difficult to deliver reliably, and it’s impossible to cover every deer.

Trap and Transfer — Running a trap and transfer program can cost as much as $3,000 per deer, so 100 deer could easily cost $250,000. And it’s not a one-time cost. It’s an inadequate solution because other deer will replace deer that are removed.

In addition, a high percentage of trapped deer will die because they do not handle the stress well. And where will we take them? Property owners and parks commissions are not asking for more deer. If too many deer live on one property, moving them to another property that already has enough deer solves nothing.

Special Hunting Season — Some want a special hunting season to kill city deer. Although that’s a low cost solution, even that has limited effectiveness because without addressing the primary problem we’re simply making room for new deer. Plus it’s politically unpopular. People worry about safety, and no homeowner wants to see a deer die in his front yard.

Besides that, killing deer in some areas might help, but in other areas maybe no deer will be killed. That’s just the nature of hunting and why it’s called “hunting” and not “killing.”

Why We Have a Problem — Jamestown is not unique. Part of the reason for our deer problem is in the way cities develop. In the beginning, houses sit on lots as small as a quarter-acre. As cities grow, people move to the edges and beyond where five or ten acre lots and even larger properties are common. People want nature around them so at the boundaries of their properties they plant buffers, which become deer habitat. Landowners prohibit hunting so the deer living there are safe, and they make more deer. Where do those new deer go? They go where there’s plenty of food and no predators, places like Jamestown.

Carrying Capacity — Animal population issues usually relate to habitat, and habitat has limits. The limit of what habitat can support is called carrying capacity. Wildlife studies universally tell us that when a species exceeds its habitat’s carrying capacity, negative things happen.

In a sentence, we have deer in the city because they have exceeded the carrying capacity of habitat outside the city. The solution is to increase hunting there. By reducing the deer population in areas adjacent to and near to the city, fewer deer will move into the city.

The description of the problem is simple, but the solution is not simple. Although owners of suburban properties value privacy, they should welcome hunters because hunters provide an important service. Hunters keep deer populations in check, and finance that service themselves. If we keep deer under the carrying capacity of properties surrounding Jamestown, any remedy we apply inside the city then has a better chance of being a cost-effective, one-time solution.

Chautauqua County has some great deer hunting. As a resident of Pennsylvania I’ve hunted there for at least 15 years but I’ve never harvested a doe. I can get a doe tag in Unit 9J, but finding places to hunt in the area around Jamestown is challenging. Certainly other hunters have similar difficulty accessing land, so I encourage landowners outside the city to open their land to hunters.

If you’re a landowner, get to know some hunters. The vast majority are good people. Tell them where they can enter your property, what parts are off limits, and what safety precautions you want to implement. You have a right to set the terms. Archery only? No centerfire rifles? Shotgun only? The solution to the deer problem inside Jamestown starts with killing enough deer outside Jamestown.

Jamestown is not unique, and urban deer are difficult to manage everywhere. Two weeks ago this nice buck was patrolling for does in a front yard north of Chicago.

Chronic Wasting Disease

Another reason trapping and transferring live deer is a bad idea is it risks spreading Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Pennsylvania Game Commission are doing all they can to prevent its spread. That’s why it’s illegal to cross the New York/Pennsylvania border with a harvested deer. The brain, tonsils, lymph nodes, eyes, spleen, and spinal column are tissues where infection concentrates. These are called “high-risk parts.” The cooperation of hunters is essential to keeping CWD from spreading.

Regulations require any deer you kill in New York to be processed in New York, and any deer you kill in Pennsylvania to be processed in Pennsylvania. If you want to take a deer across the state line in order to self-process, you must remove the high-risk parts and leave them behind.

Fortunately, no wild deer in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, or Warren County has tested positive for CWD, and only one captive deer has tested positive in Warren County. The odds of wild deer in our area having CWD are low, and state agencies aim to keep areas disease-free.

Hunters crossing the state line need to know that the Pennsylvania Game Commission has established a Chronic Wasting Disease Management Area in Warren County. Its northern border extends along the state line from Sugar Grove east to the Allegheny Reservoir south of Onoville.

The spread of CWD could have far reaching consequences for all wildlife. What happens if wild deer everywhere become infected with CWD? No one can predict all the consequences, but one result might be that if it causes a significant number of hunters to quit hunting, all wildlife is at risk. With the decline of hunting, money to support wildlife will also decrease. Dollars that finance habitat management, outdoor education, research, law enforcement, restoration of threatened species, and more will be lost.

Lots of wildlife organizations appeal for donations, but they give virtually nothing to wildlife management in our area. Not the Humane Society of the United States, not People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, not any other anti-hunting organization. In one way or another nearly all the money necessary to keep wildlife healthy, abundant and accessible comes from hunters through hunting license sales, excise taxes on guns and gear, and from hunter-supported conservation organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation, the National Deer Alliance, Ducks Unlimited, and many more.

Working Together

Whitetail deer are a tremendous renewable resource that hunters and non-hunters all appreciate, and we can keep deer healthy, abundant and accessible if landowners and hunters work together.

So to landowners: get to know some hunters and allow them to partner with you in managing the deer on your property.

And to hunters: respect the privilege of hunting on private land and help landowners monitor what’s happening on their property.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).