Gardening Goddess: Oh dear, the deer!

In recent years, the deer population inside the beltway has exploded. Drivers are swerving to avoid deer in the streets, while homeowners are at their wit’s end trying to rid their property of visiting deer that decimate their landscape plants and garden beds.

Takoma and Silver Spring residents living by park land and alongside stream valleys are particularly feeling the impact of the deer invasion. “I’ve lived backing onto Sligo Creek Park for almost 15 years. Year by year, I’m seeing more deer coming into the yard, eating down more of the vegetation,” said Kit Gage on Park Crest Drive in Silver Spring, MD.

Deer are eating most all the understory growth in local parks as well, effectively taking away the available food sources from birds and other animals. Native sapling trees have zero chance of making it to maturity and eventually replacing trees lost to storm damage or old age. New native plantings installed by volunteer groups are quickly consumed as well.

The Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC), an environmental stewardship group, made the radical decision a few years ago to request deer population management programming around the Sligo Golf Course. While not all members of FOSC agree with the solution of bringing in sharp-shooters during the winter months, most of those active in FOSC have resigned themselves to the fact that this is the only viable solution so that the native habitat can have a fighting chance to recover.

Deer hanging out in Silver Spring. Photo by Kathy Jentz.

“I support the proposed managed hunts,” said Gage. “Deer are massively overpopulated, so they’re foraging in more and more dangerous (for them) locations. In reduced numbers, deer will fit better into the biome and be healthier.”

Damage to landscape plantings is just one of the many problems the deer bring. There are about 2,000 deer-vehicle collisions in the county annually. They also carry the ticks that spread Lyme Disease. Both humans and pets can contract this debilitating disease.

The county parks report increasing calls from residents complaining of increasing deer problems. Some report deer so tame they no longer have any fear of humans and are causing a physical danger to children playing in their own yards.

Meanwhile, neighborhood emails lists are heating up with proponents on both sides of the deer fence. “I am horrified at the imminent slaughter of deer scheduled for this winter,” posted one resident in downtown Silver Spring, MD.

For the 2012-2013 hunting season, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports that 87,541 deer were harvested statewide. This is a decrease of about 11 % from the 2011-2012 season when 98,029 deer were harvested. Hunter donate deer to be processed and given to area food banks, shelters, or other non-profit organizations to the tune of 64,560 pounds in the 9 seasons from 2004-2013.

Some residents question if all non-lethal tactics have been explored and whether sharp-shooting is the best remedy in a densely populated area. Rob Gibbs, natural resources manager for M-NCPPC and chair of Montgomery County Deer Management Work Group, “We give workshops for county homeowners on deer control tactics such as repellants and fencing, but none of those methods apply to a forest management situation.”

This article originally appeared in of in slightly different version.

About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.

4 Comments on "Gardening Goddess: Oh dear, the deer!"

  1. Deer move into neighborhoods for a number of reasons in Montgomery County. The top of the list would be development and loss of land. Witness the nearly 300 acres lost for the Life Sciences Center off Rt. 29. Granted most of the deer there are culled by FDA annually…and then there was hunting on the adjacent quarry property – I found lots of lost arrows over there. Deer also move into neighborhoods during hunting season. Which in Maryland is September – January (and in some areas extended to February or March) – a good 4-6 months of unlimited killing of antlerless deer. Yes, you read that correctly, in our area (Region B).

    The total bag limit for Region B antlerless white-tailed deer Archery Season is unlimited. [Monday through Sunday.]
    An antlerless white-tailed deer is a female deer or a male deer with no antlers or spike antlers less than three inches in length, measuring from the top of the skull as the deer is in life.
    A hunter may not harvest more than two antlered white-tailed deer, within the yearly bag limit, that have two or fewer points per antler present.
    A hunter may harvest any number of antlered white-tailed deer, within the yearly bag limit, that have three or more points on at least one antler.
    These deer may be taken in any order within the existing bag limit.

    I am appalled that Ms. Jentz would still be waving that tattered flag, that ‘deer’ carry ticks and therefore are the sole reason we have Lyme Disease. Ticks feed off of small animals who are the concentrated reservoir for B.burgdorferi such as mice, chipmunks, rabbits (the primary source of Lyme in France) and possibly squirrels. We would have less of an issue with Lyme if ticks relied on deer to infect them…they are too large to act as a reservoir for the bacteria. May I point out, that dogs, foxes, raccoons, horses, goats, cattle and even humans carry ticks and while all warm-blooded creatures may become infected with Lyme, few can be a reservoir. Tick nymphs also feed on anything warm-blooded, they are not solely seeking deer and even if every deer was eradicated in Montgomery County, we would still have ticks because we still have mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, dogs, foxes, raccoons, horses, goats, cattle…..and humans. I seem to find more ‘deer’ ticks in trash filled lots where I’m sure the ticks have been thriving on rats and mice.

    The question is, with all of this non-stop killing (and lots of illegal killing reported recently by Channel 9 and Channel 4), why do you think we have so many deer? Do we really have so many deer? Or could they just be being squeezed into more fractured areas of pseudo wilderness or have adapted to being suburban deer? It is a known fact that wildlife living in suburbia become acclimated to humans (P-22 in Los Angeles). So the fact that deer walk down the street past people is not a surprise. We walk blithely through the parks too, which must serve as ‘home’ for much of our wildlife. I was stunned to find viable deer in the heart of College Park. Of course, that ‘park’ which they called home was also developed.

    I am waiting for Maryland – specifically Montgomery County – to work in conjunction with an organization and utilize birth control for deer in cramped suburban areas like Takoma Park, College Park, Rockville, Wheaton and Silver Spring. I think this would and could be better controlled, neighborhood by neighborhood. It would put sportsmen to better use by applying birth control to neighborhood herds, than killing deer in neighborhoods. There has been some success with spaying does north of Baltimore and on the NIH campus in Bethesda.

    “The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, approved surgical sterilization as a deer management technique and it is no longer research in Maryland. Both NIH and our Wildlife Rescue project, in February 2015, were done under the first ever Deer Sterilization Management permits.

    Some of the major benefits we have found with non-lethal deer sterilization birth control are less browsing because the deer do not have the caloric requirements of almost 7 months of pregnancy and 3 months of nursing fawns. Just like a pregnant woman eats more for her baby, so does a deer. And even though they still reside in the community, they keep out new deer who would eat much more. In addition, the sterilized female deer do not go into heat, so they are not chased by bucks during rut, reducing deer vehicle collisions! We know killing some deer is not going to solve the deer issue, because you are not stopping the remaining deer from reproducing. Deer sterilization spaying is 100% effective at stopping reproduction.”

    With four hunting blinds in our neighborhood and a Bloodsport Hunter arrow at my front door on New Year’s Day, I think I would prefer sterilization of deer, certainly in our neighborhood, over the Wild West behavior of urban yahoos who call themselves, ‘hunters’. The deer are less threatening.

    Silver Spring

  2. I am shocked by how much Takoma Parkians seem to detest deer. I would expect better of my fellow neighbors. Even the council seemed to condone hunting them by arrow if the hunter follows the regs. Hunting in Takoma Park is crazy and should be prohibited, period!

    We have several deer who frequent our yard and we have no complaints. We have plenty of acorns and many still grow into small trees. Nobody eats them. That’s just an excuse they’re using to justify the killing of deer. Squirrels abort more oaks than deer. Sometimes deer nibble on our house plants on the deck, but no big deal.

    Beats living in Aleppo.

    Stop blaming the deer. They are not the real problem here!

  3. Carol Allen | January 7, 2017 at 12:06 pm |

    The overpopulation of deer in our URBAN areas is a tragic indicator of the damage that human overpopulation has had on the ecosystem. We depend on that ecosystem for the air we breathe and the water we drink among other ecosystem services. Do we need to control the deer population? OH YES! The reasons for controlling deer far outweigh simply putting up with Bambi eating a few plants in our back yard. In the D.C. area as well as throughout the Northeast, human cases of tick borne diseases have skyrocketed. The CDC reports of 30,000 cases on record per year (2014 report), but estimates the number is closer to 300,000 (nation wide). Over 3500 deer were killed on Montgomery County’s roads(2014-2015 Maryland annual deer report) in 2014-2015. That is over 3500 people or more who were possibly injured or had property damaged. Controlling the deer population is a sad reality.

  4. Anne Hardman | January 7, 2017 at 12:14 pm |

    I have walked for many years in the Sligo Creek stream valley. Over the past several years we have watched as virtually all of the understory (save invasive non-native plants) has been devastated. There has been significant loss of habitat for all the forest creatures, including the deer. They have exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment to sustain themselves. I support a controlled hunt for the above reasons.

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