Is it Bambi, or is it a neighborhood nuisance/public policy problem yet to be resolved? Opinions run the gamut about the deer we see frequently in our neighborhoods and crossing our roadways. The Geist area is representative of many communities across the country experiencing the burgeoning problem of “urban deer” – an influx of deer into suburban backyards. “They have become so acclimated to living around people, they lose their natural fear,” explained Chad Stewart, deer management biologist, Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR). “In their natural habitat, deer would normally run from you.”
Stewart noted that many people are somewhat fascinated by the amazing experience of seeing these beautiful creatures up close and personal. But at what point is it too much? At what point does it reach people’s tolerance level? Flattened and munched-upon landscaping, vegetable garden buffets, family pets who roll in deer feces – all tend to wear upon our love of Bambi and his relatives.
The good news is deer are generally disease-free and non-aggressive. There are, however, certain times of the year we should be more wary of them. May and June are when fawns appear and the mother becomes highly protective, with some rare instances of attacking small dogs. Late October and early November are the ‘rut’ season when more than 30-40 percent of deer-vehicle collisions occur annually. During this deer mating season, according to Stewart, “they go crazy”, and don’t pay attention to cars, etc., and is the time of year for motorists to be particularly watchful for them.
Why do we have so many deer? Records indicate very high levels in Indiana – more today than in past decades – and a very high density in urban areas. The reason is there are no real predators. Yes, there is the occasional coyote or domestic dog who will take fawns, and certainly deer-vehicle collisions account for some loss, but the primary deer predators are hunters which, of course, we don’t have in urban areas.
There are small areas where the DNR authorizes limited deer hunts. At Ft. Harrison State Park, licensed archery hunters are allowed to hunt four days in November and December. Last year, 64 deer were taken, up from 46 in 2011. “Deer hide very well,” said Stewart, so those numbers aren’t a significant percentage of the actual population.
Varying opinions about deer in populous neighborhoods create a sticky issue that can put policy makers at odds. Reducing the herd is something many people oppose. The DNR does not trap and relocate deer because it is a nearly impossible task. Contraception is a consideration that, in theory, could work, but in practice would require capturing and spaying 80 percent of females every year – not a long-term solution. Another solution are firearm hunts which almost always are controversial.
So, Bambi lives near you. There are steps you can take to keep the deer in check. Experts urge that you not feed the deer. Put fences around your gardens or spread dog hair or Irish Spring soap or coyote urine (yes, you really can buy this) to protect plants. And, have your camera ready for some beautiful nature shots.