GCCA Annual Meeting by Pat Corey

Colesville residents recently got a great opportunity to learn firsthand about deer management from Mr. George Timko, who has worked for 20 years as an Urban Deer Biologist for the Maryland Department of National Resources.

Deer management is both complex and controversial. Around 1900 the white tail deer population in the United States was estimated at 500,000. Today, that population is estimated at 25 to 30 million. It is very difficult to get a truly accurate number of deer in the suburbs. However, biologists generally agree that deer population is over tenfold the number that the environment can sustain.

Yet deer management is a real and pressing need. Farmers need to protect their crops, and hunters are one way to help manage deer populations in the rural areas of Maryland. Still, deer management is more complex in suburban areas. Suburban neighborhoods, built near woodlands and streams are very desirable to home buyers. Yet these features are also very attractive to deer.  We have not so much encroached on deer’s environment, but created an ideal, safe habitat for them.

Since deer have few natural predators in the suburbs, save for disease and automobiles, their populations have dramatically increased, leading to significant loss of forest undergrowth, including newly sprouting plants and tree saplings. Loss of regenerating forest creates a ripple effect, increasing erosion, disrupting life cycles in streams and ponds and destroying habitats for small mammals and ground nesting birds.

Deer also feast on our landscaping plants and gardens. A number of our fellow residents have tried a number of routes to keep hungry deer at bay, from deer resistant plants to noxious repellents to tall fences. Yet these techniques have limited success, as deer adapt. Deer are now eating plants once deemed “deer resistant” – such as forsythia and lilac. Repellents need to be reapplied after rain. Fences are effective only if they are tall enough – about eight feet high - or solid to prevent deer from seeing through.

Deer are hosts of ticks, which carry Lyme and other diseases. A number of our neighbors are dealing with the long term injury of tick-borne illness. Reducing the deer population is one of several methods that have been shown to be successful in reducing ticks. Neighbors have also recently deployed tick tubes – tubes with insecticide treated nesting materials for mice. Mice are another important host for disease carrying ticks.

Over the years, biologists have tried many non-lethal methods for controlling deer population, including trap-and-transfer and sterilization. Trap-and-transfer, where deer are physically moved to areas with fewer deer, is not allowed in Maryland because all areas have an over population. Sterilization and birth control methods have also not been successful in reducing deer populations. In-field sterilization surgery on a male or female deer is dangerous, both for the deer and the veterinarian. The dart and anesthesia must be accurate for bringing down the animal safely, and the deer can die if the dosage is wrong. Finally, the cost is prohibitive. Estimates vary from $1,000 to $1,500 per animal.

Regulated hunting is the only method that is really effective and done at a reasonable cost. Montgomery County is in the forefront of most of the local governments in addressing this issue. Marksmen – usually police officers – using firearms in parkland areas follow strict rules and regulations.  Bow hunters – often members of our community – also follow strict county and state regulations when in residential areas. Bow hunters are silent, unobtrusive, and effective. And the deer they harvest is often donated to food pantries for the needy.