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Do Not Feed the Deer

Sullivan County Deer PopulationDuring my weekend showings I was at a house where the homeowner had put out what looked like corn for the deer.  And then I saw a post on Facebook  where some well intentioned good Samaritan was urging people to put out feed for the “starving” deer. And yesterday at Agway I saw piles of bagged food for deer. I am surprised that this is being done. Frankly I thought people knew better.

I understand it’s human nature to want to help these animals during a tough winter like this, and seeing gaunt deer stumble through your yard can be difficult to watch. However interfering with mother nature has numerous consequences

First of all it is illegal. As of July 28th 2010 the NYS DEC passed a law banning the feeding of white tail deer and elk in New York State. And there are a number of good reasons why.

1) Disease: Deer are foragers, who although do travel in groups, in a natural environment are spread out. Once you get a bunch of deer crowded together,  the food can get contaminated by feces, saliva and urine. This in turn can harbor all sorts of infectious disease causing critters. If you think the skinny deer in your backyard looks sad now, Google chronic wasting disease in whitetail deer. This disease can only get passed from animal to animal when they are in close proximity. Which they rarely do in their natural habitat.

We all know that deer are one of the major culprits for harboring the ticks that carry Lyme. Again getting a bunch of deer all together is like a tick’s Shangri-La. Research has shown that reducing the deer population in an affected area to a level of 8 – 12 deer per square mile virtually eliminates ticks and Lyme Disease in humans. (Sullivan County is well above those numbers, which brings me to my next point.)

2) Overabundance: Although exact numbers are impossible to achieve most experts agree that the deer population in New York State is at an all time high. And there may be as many as ten times the amount of deer there was when the Lenape inhabited our area. Currently white tail deer in NY have no natural predator. Wolves used to be the deer’s natural population control, however they were wiped out when they realized a cow was an easier mark and a better dinner than a deer. Since then, hunting and natural selection are the only things that are used to keep the population in check. If we start giving the deer free winter meals, the numbers will grow even larger.

And you may say, so what if there are more deer? Who are they harming? Well they have the potential to harm our entire Eco-system. Although many of our forests are already developed, any new young plant or sapling no longer stands a chance against the size of the herd. Our woods used to be filled with thick under brush and mountain laurel, which in turn hid birds, and other smaller animals. Now many of our wooded areas almost look like a city park. If anyone has tried to grow an unfenced garden, then you know what I am talking about.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd used to live in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.” — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

They are a nuisance on the roads as well. I am pretty confident that you will not be able to find a person who has lived full time in Sullivan County for at least a year, who has not hit a deer with their car. It is a daily occurrence here.  Annually the number of deer related accidents in New York State is around 67,000. That is almost 200 a day!

And a car is one thing. But our scenic roads are a favorite for the motorcyclists in the summer months. Hitting a deer on a motorcycle is a tragic event. And it happens all too often.

So although the softer hearts amongst us may feel the urge to put out food, or cover their ears on the first day of hunting season, let’s try to remember that Mother nature had things under control long before we came along, and the last thing she needs is our “help.”

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