Effects of Deer Population Changes in the U.S.

The white tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is indigenous to the continental United States, southern Canada, Mexico, Central America, northern portions of South America, and some countries in Europe.  In many of these countries, deer pose problems such as eating residential vegetation and causing car deer collisions on roadways.  For this reason, deer population is often an issue of concern.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were an estimated half million deer in the United States.  By 1930, that number had dropped to approximately 300,000.  At a certain point, the species was nearly eradicated all together by hunters.  As the result of an outcry by hunters and other conservation groups, individual U.S. states began passing legislation to restrict hunting, particularly of does (female deer).  Most of the laws put in place shortened the hunting seasons and reduced bag limits, or how many deer a hunter can kill at one time.

As a species, deer are known reproduce at a rapid pace.  A doe grows fully mature in about two and a half years and then produces twins each year for the next 10 plus years.  Therefore, one doe can create 20 offspring.  In a relatively short period of time, the population growth of deer can be staggering, if left unchecked.

By the year 2005, the population of deer in the United States was estimated in excess of 30 million.  In fact, the deer is the state animal of Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina and Wisconsin, as well as being listed as the “provincial animal” of Saskatchewan.

Not only is the population up, it also is up significantly in urban areas.  Urban areas are highly restrictive of hunting, and as a result, deer have flourished there.  Typically, land development increases the animals’ available food supply.  Old forests do not produce much edible food for deer, usually because the tree branches are too high for deer to reach, and during the cold winter months, low shrubs are eaten very quickly.  However, new urban areas with newly planted trees and shrubs can sustain a much higher population of deer.  Some suburban areas in the U.S. have reported populations as high as 200 deer per square mile.

Deer in urban areas create a number of problems for humans.  Gardeners often times find their gardens eradicated after a harsh winter.  Deer will eat everything within reach, and they can reach 5 to 7 foot on their hind legs.  Deer have been known to eat low hanging tree branches up to 7 foot from the ground.  Deer also love acorns, fruits and field corn.  Their stomach physiology allows them to eat some things that few other animals can eat, like mushrooms that are poisonous to humans and many other mammals.  All of these factors make the deer a menace to urban gardeners as well as agricultural communities deriving their income from field crops.

Another major problem with deer population grown in urban areas is in incidence of car deer collisions.  Deer on and around roadways are a serious danger.  It has been estimated that deer are responsible for approximately 1.5 million automobile accidents each year in the United States, some of which prove to be deadly for the motorists involved.

The growth in deer population is not all bad, however.  In the United States, deer are regularly hunted for sport, and an entire industry has developed around that pastime.  Retail outlets specializing in sportsmen’s products have entire sections of their stores devoted to deer hunting paraphernalia.  In fact, the whitetail deer is considered to be the most popular game in the United StatesComputer Technology Articles, with approximately 11 million hunters chasing it each year.

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