Results and Examples of Urban and Suburban Deer Management

Results of Deer Management programs
Huron-Clinton Metroparks

Locally, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have been culling deer since 1999.  “After reducing the populations to sustainable levels, oaks are growing into trees and numerous woodland wildflowers are re-appearing.” With the reduction in deer, they are seeing plants bloom that haven’t been seen for 17 years.

From the Metroparks 2010 – 2011 Deer Management Report

The Metroparks has published the 2022-2026 Deer Herd and Ecosystem Management Plan which is a comprehensive review of evolving best practices and alternative methods used to effectively control deer populations. The plan includes scientific deer and vegetation research, results from a Metroparks deer herd health study, Michigan DNR deer population density thresholds, as well as aerial surveys used to identify herd sizes within the 13 parks. It has background information on deer impacts and the positive results that have been observed since the Metroparks implemented deer management.

From Metroparks 2022 Deer Management Report
Rochester Hills, MI

Rochester Hills (just north of Detroit, MI) is also local and often cited as a successful example of nonlethal methods . The city uses education and signage to deal with the problem of deer vehicle crashes and damage to landscapes and gardens. Except that with only 70,000 citizens, Rochester Hills had 166 deer-vehicle crashes in 2019, fifth in the state (vs. Ann Arbor’s 50). Furthermore, Rochester Hills naturalist Lance DeVoe told an Ann Arbor audience that deer had devastated the natural areas of Rochester Hills to the point of permitting Japanese barberry, an invasive shrub, to completely dominate.  Rochester Hills, therefore, does not convince us of positive results from letting the deer population increase without limit. They are merely culling with cars and giving up on natural areas preservation.

Washington DC Area Parks

The National Park Service has been conducting regular deer culls in Rock Creek Park in Washington DC since 2013.

“We’re trying to protect and restore our native plants and forest,” says Megan Nortrup, an NPS spokesperson. “Deer are causing a lot of damage; they’re eating tree seedlings that would be the forest of tomorrow. So they’re impacting not just plants, but all the other creatures that live in the forest,” Nortrup says.

According to NPS, with the reduction in deer density, seedling densities have nearly tripled in Rock Creek Park since deer culling began. In Catoctin Mountain Park, in Frederick County, MD, seedling densities have increased 13-fold since deer management started. “It’s allowing the forest to recover in a way that it hadn’t been able to before,” says Nortrup. “So we know it can work.”

Deer Management Programs in Michigan      
Deer Management in National Parks
Other Park Systems
Other College Towns 

More examples of urban/suburban deer management are available from the Cornell University/Nature Conservancy Community Deer Advisor:  Community Examples

False Claims that Lethal Deer Management Cannot Succeed

The Humane Society of the United States and others have advanced the argument that hunts and culls cannot actually reduce deer density. They propose two mechanisms that doom lethal herd control to failure: the “vacuum effect” and  “reproductive rebound”.

The vacuum effect – the hypothesis that deer are “sucked in” from neighboring areas when deer are removed, i.e. that deer disperse into available territory. This hypothesis has been disproved by Dr. William Porter’s research in upstate NY. Deer were removed from an area surrounded by deer and no deer moved into that area during a five year period. The reason behind that is that fawns learn a home range from their mother and have an allegiance to that maternal home range throughout their lives. They have no way of knowing that a neighboring area is available and don’t want to leave their familiar home range.

The rebound effect – the hypothesis of increased fecundity of does when deer are removed from an area, i.e. if you remove deer they will have more fawns to compensate. This can occur in areas where the deer have exceeded the biological carrying capacity (BCC), meaning that the food supply is not sufficient for the deer population. In other words, the deer are not getting the nutrition they need, i.e. they are starving. The deer population has not exceeded the BCC in Ann Arbor, which is not to say that they are not causing environmental damage.

See the University of Michigan’s Professor Chris Dick’s, The pseudoscience of non-lethal deer management.

Opponents of lethal deer management also often claim that culls and managed hunts present a danger to people and pets.  There is not a single example of such harm from all of the municipal or park system culls that have been done anywhere in the United States.

Books on Deer Management 

Deer Wars: Science, Tradition, and the Battle over Managing Whitetails in Pennsylvania by Bob Frye

Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness by Al Cambronne 

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