Timothy Frudd’s excellent article recently outlined the idea of bringing a consultant for the Humane Society of the United States to the city to solve our urban deer problem. I do not believe Sandy Baker, aka “Deer Doctor,” has any solution to the problem.
First, I’ve attempted to research her professional credentials and found nothing. Dozens of universities grant Ph.D. degrees and master’s degrees in various aspects of deer management, and she seems not to have earned one of them. In other words, as an expert on citywide deer management she appears to be uncredentialed. If the city wants to bring in outside expertise, many qualified professionals with earned degrees and broad experience are available.
Second, in cases where Baker has consulted, she offers little beyond what any council representative could find using a simple Internet search. What do you want to eat? What do they avoid? What kind of fencing provides an effective barrier? Such information is worth knowing, but it’s also important to understand that while some individual homeowners will benefit from revamping their landscaping, others won’t. Lots of parks and other types of undeveloped properties and buffer areas will continue to provide abundant food and plenty of cover. Most city habitat that’s friendly to deer will be largely unchanged.
Third, Baker can offer no solution to the larger problem, one I’ve written about in the Jamestown Gazette in October. Many people believe deer are in the city because humans have invaded their space, but that is not the case. Ten years ago, we had far fewer deer within the city and there was a time when no deer lived in the city. They have moved in and multiplied because too many now live outside the city. Deer are prolific breeders, so any effort to tolerate the number of deer that now inhabit the city will result in more deer. That means the “humane” solution is not humane.
Fourth, it is inhumane to force deer to live in habitat not suited to their status as large wild animals with no predators. Deer are not rabbits subject to control by foxes. They are not chipmunks prior upon by hawks and housecats. But like rabbits and chipmunks, deer are prey animals. That’s an indisputable fact, and all prey animals need predators. In some habitats, wolves, mountain lions, bears and man are primary deer predators. In western New York, man is the only primary deer predator, and when man cannot play his role, deer will suffer.
Right now, we have a growing problem across the country. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) disease specific to deer, is slowly and surely spreading, and when it infects deer in an overpopulated habitat it spreads more rapidly and will devastate them. Is it humane to allow deer to be so densely populated that this disease or others take a toll?
Where deer are overpopulated, malnourishment also becomes a problem. Deer fail to reach normal growth. Contrary to what many believe, it is not kind or humane to deer – or any wildlife – to permit overpopulation.
Further, too many deer devastate habitat for other wildlife. Do you enjoy songbirds? Deer will decimate native plants, even to the point of destroying songbird nesting habitat. No wildlife species lives in a vacuum, certainly not those beautiful, brown-eyed girls and their endearing spotted offspring. Deer cannot be permitted to overpopulate habitat, rural or urban.
Solon, Ohio, a city similar in size to Jamestown, also has too many deer and used Baker’s services. A little Internet sleuthing shows that Solon’s problem has not been solved.
Baker and her supporters are well-intentioned, but her expertise resides in one narrow facet of this problem. She can help individual homeowners solve individual problems but as an overall solution, her approach and the approach of the organization she consults for is not good for deer.
America’s wildlife is managed by state agencies. In New York, the state DEC is far better equipped to manage deer than is the Humane Society of the United States or any of its consultants. Jamestown must bring pressure to bear on the DEC to help solve this problem. It is in the interest of the DEC to do so, otherwise any non-hunting or anti-hunting organization is positioned to usurp its authority.
I urge the Jamestown City Council to consult real wildlife professionals, and to use the tools of wildlife management, hunters inside the city and outside, to solve this problem. Urban deer are no more special than rural deer, and they must be controlled the same way.
Steve Sorensen is a nationally recognized award-winning outdoor writer, a field contributor to Deer & Deer Hunting magazine, and lives in Russell, Pa.