Deer Management

January 2017 - In January the latest phase of the City’s deer management program was authorized by City ordinance and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The program is once again being conducted by White Buffalo, Inc, which is a nonprofit organization that is focused on the conservation of native species and ecosystems. The City is authorized to cull up to 225 deer during the month of January at locations throughout the City on private property authorized by the property owners. All of the meat is processed and donated to the St. Louis Area Foodbank through the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Share the Harvest program. Once the January project is completed the final reports of the management program and the population study will be posted on this page. 
Deer 1
Background
With the expansion of urban areas and the creation of suburbs, the natural predators of deer have disappeared, leaving the vehicle as the primary “predator” to manage the growth of the deer population. Going from a population between 15 and 25 deer per square mile before suburbanization to our 2009 estimate of approximately 65 deer per square mile, this exponential growth resulted in a number of adverse conditions that are being addressed by our deer management program. Our program was informed, in part, by the final report of the West St. Louis County Deer Task Force, which was comprised of 10 municipalities and three government agencies that met for 18 months and studied the issue and made recommendations. Other resources used in our research included the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, the Northeast Deer Technical Committee, and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Public safety
The police department published the final deer / vehicle crash total for 2016, which was reduced 32 percent, from 90 to 61. While we conduct distance sampling for our population estimates, the primary driver of the program is the level of deer vehicle collisions. We are encouraged by the numbers this year, but we still have a way to go to state that we have effectively addressed the public safety issue. On a related note, managing deer with vehicles is perhaps the most inhumane method for both the human and animal.
deer chart

Ecological impact
For those who are environmentally-minded, the proliferation of deer beyond the natural levels of our eco-system has a disastrous effect upon other living things. A number of studies have been conducted that have shown the adverse effect on plants, wildflowers, trees, insects, bees and birds. When deer are allowed to increase, the eco system is thrown out of balance and other living things suffer. It is not surprising that one of the biggest supporters of our deer management program is a biologist who has witnessed this impact upon the balance of nature in Town and Country. 

Economic loss
From 2009 through 2016 the City has authorized over $500,000 in funds for deer management. In 2016, this equated to 0.005 percent of the City’s total budget. During that same period of time, there have been 677 suspected or verified accidents between deer and vehicles on Town and Country roadways. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, those crashes resulted in a loss of over $1.8 million to vehicle owners and their insurance companies. The 32 percent reduction in crashes from 2015 to 2016 equates to a reduction in economic loss of nearly $80,000. This loss would be much higher if any of those crashes resulted in injuries to drivers or occupants.

It should also be noted that 16 percent of the total expenditures were for the processing of the meat that was donated to the St. Louis Area Foodbank through the Share the Harvest program.

Rebound effect
The compensatory rebound effect maintains that multiple births and increased fertility follow periods of hunting or lethal methods of deer management. However, wildlife experts reject this phenomenon on populations that exist in the environmental conditions of West St. Louis County. In Missouri, there is not a scarcity of food sources so the rebound effect simply does not occur.

What some individuals confuse with rebound effect is the lower mortality rate (known as recruitment) of fawns. Doe are not having more fawns, but in the past several years the fawns that are born have a greater survival rate than in years past due to environmental conditions.

The Town of Weston, Massachusetts has addressed the “compensatory rebound effect” on its website regarding their deer management program. Weston’s response is applicable to the area of West St. Louis County and the State of Missouri:

Will hunting in Weston cause a "compensatory rebound effect”? Their [opponents to their deer management program] claim: “Reliable data suggests a 'compensatory rebound effect’ in which multiple births and increased fertility follow periods of hunting, and the population spike is supported by foliage regrowth.”

Our [Weston’s] response:
• A “rebound effect” only happens after culling a deer herd that has a reduced birthrate because it is already stressed and starving. Our deer herd, on the contrary, is below biological carrying capacity and is likely to increase until it reaches a density at least two to four times what it is today, if the experience of hundreds of similar towns in Connecticut and New Jersey is any indication.

• Weston’s suburban environment provides deer with abundant fields, forests, landscaping and ornamental plants for deer to eat year-round. Hunting cannot increase deer fertility because Weston’s deer are already having plenty of twins each spring. They are already reproducing at maximum rates. That is the problem.[1]

The Cleveland Metroparks has a similar lethal management program as Town and Country and has also addressed the issue of the rebound effect –

Is it true that if you reduce the deer herd they will have triplets, causing a "rebound effect?"

This does not occur with deer management programs. Deer reproduction, monitored by Cleveland Metroparks since 1998, has averaged approximately 1.7 fawns per yearling and older does throughout the management period. Twins are the norm with 68% of does bearing twins, 23% having single births, and approximately 4.5% bearing triplets. 4.5% of yearlings or older have not produced fawns.[2]

[1] Retrieved from http://www.weston.org/546/Article-20-Rebuttal on January 10, 2017
[2] Retrieved from http://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/Main/CurrentIssues.aspx on January 10, 2017

Inquiries, complaints or interest in participating as a cooperating landowner can be directed to deer@town-and-country.org