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Oh Deer Column

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Oh Deer-1

By Ann Reynolds
Certified Master Naturalist
My dream come true - a country home on a modest plot of land in the woods. After the congestion of Plano, I thought I was in heaven. I knew that gardening would hold challenges with heat, drought, excessive rainfall, poor soil conditions, shade but overcoming those challenges would be part of the fun! Imagine my frustration upon finding several of my Texas native plants missing after planting. What kind of plant thieves come out at night at Holly Lake Ranch? Deer! Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-deer. I enjoy watching the deer and understand the ambiance they bring to our peaceful woods. Do we have an over-abundance of deer? I don't know. The only method of determining this is to have Texas Parks and Wildlife perform a browse study.
There are primarily two species of Odocoileus, the white-tail deer and the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Texas but numerous sub-species exist. The deer family also includes caribou, elk and moose; however, the greatest nuisance to the home gardener is the white-tail. The white-tail deer's comeback is attributed to several factors: tougher hunting laws, diminished natural predators, and the conversion of agricultural lands back to deer-friendly habitats. Also, our urban and suburban sprawl has spilled over into the natural areas where deer live. But did you know that deer populations, once hunted to near extinction, are rebounding to their highest levels ever? Now, wildlife experts estimate there are over 4 million white-tail deer in Texas. The increase of deer and our own growing population have brought on significant problems. In its Deer Management within Suburban Areas publication, Texas Parks and Wildlife estimated that deer damage to U. S. residential landscapes in 2002 may exceed $250 million per year.
Deer living in populated areas grow increasingly accustomed to being around strange scents, sounds, people, cars and pets. Some deer out here at the ranch have actually walked up and eaten out of homeowner's hands. Deer eat forbs(vegetation other than grass) or do damage by browsing, which is a pattern of eating selected tender shoots (red bud, maple, dogwood), twigs and leaves of ornamental plants, trees and shrubs. They do eat some grass but most of their diet is mast(acorns and forest floor nuts), broadleaf plant foliage and new growth. Hence, they just love our newly planted landscaping! Deer eat more than 500 different types of plants and their tastes change with the season, nutritional needs and the abundance or lack of favorite foods. When summer drought comes on, the availability of food diminishes in the wild and our landscapes appear to be a luscious salad bar! The hungrier the deer get, the more difficult it is to prevent the damage. Neighbors feeding deer encourage them to our neighborhoods to eat. This feeding of deer corn makes problems worse for the deer and homeowners. It tends to attract more deer than can be fed and this coupled with a reduced fear of man usually adds to landscape damage.

Male deer can devastate trees and bushes by rubbing their antlers on them. This activity strips off the bark, breaks the small branches and can entirely girdle and kill a plant. Deer can: reduce plant species by one half, eliminate low vegetation and under-story trees which encourages the growth of brush, and destroys the habitats of birds and other wildlife. Their overpopulations are destroying the very ecosystems they are part of and increasing their competition for limited natural food supplies. On average a healthy adult deer needs to consume 5 to 10 pounds of food per day. Now try this exercise. Go into the woods with a hand clipper and a plastic bag, and clip 5 pounds of twigs (what a deer normally would eat). Then do it again, tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Now imagine doing that for 5 deer - what would your woods look like?
The annual mortality rate via auto collisions on the nation's highways is approximately 1.5 million deer. These collisions cost the insurance industry about $1.1 billion per year. From 1993 to 2007, Texas led the nation with 227 deer-vehicle crash human fatalities, according to the study by Keith Knapp, an animal-vehicle collision researcher at the University of Minnesota who runs DeerCrash.com, a Web site dedicated to research of the subject. In 2001, Texas had 2810 deer/vehicle crashes, 12 deaths and 1379 injuries which cost $48 million.
So what is a gardener to do? First of all you need to know your opponent. The deer menu changes with the seasons. From July to September they stockpile calories and young bucks are rubbing the velvet off their antlers on your trees. Fall is breeding time and garden visits become more frequent until a hard frost reduces tender plants and the deer shift to woody shrubs. Winter (through April) hunger causes deer to munch any plant they can reach. Spring is birthing time and does need an extra 10 pounds of new sprouts and shoots per day.
There are several options for gardeners and I bet you have tried them all. The best way to stop deer is with a 16-foot tall fence patrolled by a pack of hounds. But, since you can't turn your yard into a fortress, here are some strategies for a peaceful coexistence.
1. Plant deer-resistant native plants for east Texas. Sorry, there's no such thing as a deer-proof plant unless you consider silk and plastic. A good list can be found on the Native Plant Society of Texas' web site as well as a book by Patti Simons entitled Camouflage Gardening.
2. Fencing or physical barriers are expensive, unsightly and probably not within our rules and regulations. The most practical is cage protection for small trees and shrubs. Deer are creatures of habit that rarely stray from their established paths. When they appear, immediately block their access with a fence. Force them to find a new route and they will abandon your garden.
3. There are a variety of chemicals and repellents on the market - many of which include things like hot peppers, garlic, rotten egg and/or bobcat, coyote or mountain lion urine. Start spraying and then rotate repellents so deer don't get accustomed to any one scent. Some folks have reported good luck with fabric softener sheets, bars of soap, human hair, mothballs and blood meal.
4. Scare devices include sound devices, lights activated by motion sensors and motion activated sprinklers. Deer will get used to these as well.
5. Re-introduce the deer's natural predators.

6. Contraception - which the Humane Society says doesn't work.
7. Trap and transfer (despite the fact that deer don't live through it and no community wants more deer), a TPWD application for a permit to trap and transport is required. Cost is approximately $150 to $500. All readers should be aware that deer are considered the property of the great state of Texas and as such a town cannot simply shoot or trap and move them to another location without permission from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
8. Hunting - Now, I love all of the creatures that God put on this earth, and could never harm any of them (except scorpions), However, I would rather have a deer killed swiftly, with as little pain as possible and provide food for needy families (Hunters for the Homeless project) than see deer killed on 2869 or dying a slow death of starvation. When over-populations exist the deer herd needs to be reduced until it is no longer a threat to itself or native ecosystems. It is often necessary to improve the buck-doe ratio to contribute to strong genes (they way nature intended).
This article is intended to be informational and more articles will appear here about these wonderful creatures

Last Updated on Friday, 27 March 2009 01:56  

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