Reducing Jamestown’s Deer Population

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You’ve probably seen arborvitae like this and thought it was natural. It’s not. It’s a sign of hungry deer, and it shows exactly how high deer can reach. It’s called a “browse line.”

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Whenever you have a problem to solve, it’s a good idea to know where the problem is. Many people think Jamestown has too many deer in its city limits. That’s true, but the city is not actually where the main problem is.

Some have voiced concerns about the health of the deer, but high reproductive rates indicate that deer in Jamestown are very healthy. Yes, a disease could hit and decimate the deer, but that’s not today’s problem. Other problems may be down the road. More car collisions. Deer becoming smaller due to overcrowding, perhaps even inbreeding. Predation by coyotes and black bears might increase. But we don’t have those problems yet.

Nor does having a high population of deer in the city necessarily correlate to a higher incidence of Lyme disease in people or pets. High numbers of ticks might be more related to the number of mice or other rodents, animals we hardly notice. And it means little if one dog picks up lots of ticks. Other dogs in the same neighborhood might never get a tick. My dog is a tick magnet, but her “friends” hardly ever host a tick. This spring my yard has been home to more deer than ever, but my dog has had fewer ticks than ever. Go figure.

One problem deer now bring to the city is that they eat whatever they can reach. They have a fondness for expensive landscaping, but they don’t necessarily turn their noses up at what “experts” say deer don’t like. Some say they don’t eat yew bushes, but in winters past they devoured mine and in other winters barely touched them. They’ll destroy arborvitae as high as they can reach — one of the clearest pictures of a deer browse line.

Encouraging homeowners to swap out shrubbery for so-called “deer-resistant” plants is not the answer. Even if it works for one homeowner, he may simply be shifting the problem to less affluent neighbors who can’t afford that solution.

Jamestown is not unique. Many cities around the country have too many deer and have turned to bow hunting to reduce the number of urban deer. Although that’s not the hunting experience I want, I would be in favor of hunting deer in the city.

City hunting doesn’t come without its own set of challenges and the Jamestown city council is aware of them. Last year a committee came up with a solid plan for hunting within city limits, but when it reached a council vote it was nixed.

The root problem is not actually in Jamestown. It’s in a three-to-five-mile radius around the city. Archery hunting in the city can help, but reducing the number of deer in the city will only make room for other deer to drift into the city to take advantage of what it offers. To keep deer in the habitat in surrounding areas, the population needs to be reduced there.

About 20 years ago I decided to hunt New York as a Pennsylvania resident. The firearms season in New York is three weeks long and usually begins a week before the Pennsylvania season, so by hunting New York I add a week to my season and many extra places to hunt, but those places are not close to Jamestown. It’s easy to draw an antlerless tag for WMU 9J (which includes the area around Jamestown), but I’ve never harvested a doe there.

Why not? Because it’s difficult to get permission to hunt in areas around Jamestown. I’m not blaming landowners. I strongly believe in property rights. I want to obey whatever the landowner wants. They often have good reasons to deny permission.

And even if Jamestown allows bow hunting, killing 20 or 30 deer will only open up more space for deer in the city. A few hundred more deer need to be killed outside the city; otherwise deer will continue to leave those areas for the city.

City administrators have no jurisdiction outside the city, and deer management is up to the state. That’s why the city needs to get the NYDEC involved. Working together, perhaps they can find creative ways to incentivize landowners to allow hunters access to properties on the outskirts of Jamestown. The meat can be channeled into the food supply through venison donation programs to benefit people who need it.

It’s a solution where everyone can win, even the deer, but it won’t be easy to implement.

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.