Ridgefield’s Deer Problem
By Brian Jones
Ninth Grade, Ridgefield High School
25 May 2005
One in every 114 residents of Ridgefield will either be involved in a deer related accident, or contract Lyme disease each year (“The Problem”). Ridgefield Town Officials should reduce the amount of deer in our town so that there is less destroyed property, fewer car accidents, and a lower risk of contracting Lyme disease. There have been 529 deer related accidents in Ridgefield between 1999 and 2004, and at least five people have been injured (“The Problem”). Ninety-five cases of Lyme disease were reported in Ridgefield in 2002 alone (“The Problem”). The overpopulation in Ridgefield creates many problems, for instance the high number of Lyme disease cases, the thousands of dollars spent on the repair of damaged property, and the hundreds of car accidents each year caused by deer. Also it is important to be aware of the background of deer, so that if you are trying to resolve the problem you have some knowledge of the topic.
Lyme disease is spread mainly by deer-ticks that are sometimes found crawling on your body after being outdoors. Although not always thought of as a dangerous disease, Lyme disease, if not treated early enough, this can cause anything from chronic long-term illness to mere facial stiffness and pain (“Lyme Disease”). This disease can become very dangerous with young families, because this disease has its highest susceptibility in children between the ages of five and nine (“Lyme Disease”). Ninety-five cases of Lyme disease were recorded in Ridgefield in 2002, which is an average rate of one per 250 residents, or roughly twenty students in our public school system (“Lyme Disease”).
Deer in our community cost us thousands of dollars in damage to cars and gardens each year. “Deer consume approximately ten pounds of vegetation each day”(Sesto 1). Forests consist of three sections of habitat, a non-woody ground cover, an understory, which mainly consists of shrubs and saplings, and a canopy that is made up of mature trees. Overpopulated areas of deer feeding called “over-browsing”, has caused the understory and groundcover to nearly disappear, making the forest regeneration to come to a halt (Kuznik 2). Lacking the understory and groundcover, many small mammals, ground nesting birds, plants, and wild flowers have become either extinct or dangerously close to it. Imagine taking a walk with your children or grandchildren, through the same woods that you walked through as a child, looking for wild flowers and rabbits. Instead you just find a sparse brown abyss all around you because of the deer that have destroyed it all and multiplied from 10 to 60 per square mile. “When the understory is gone so are the bird species. It is estimated that between five and seven songbird species are no longer found in our area due to deer browse impacts. This has happened on a number of occasions all across the nation as well as Fairfield County. If we do not act on this problem fast and strong, that is what will happen to our entire town. On top of gardens and lush forests, deer also cause astronomical damage to our cars. “In an average front-end collision, a deer causes $4,500 to $7,500 worth of repairs” (Sesto 2). Nationwide deer toll the country $1.1 billion each year in car crashes alone (Haydock “Deer-Motorist” 2).
One of the biggest concerns today while driving on the roads of Ridgefield and Fairfield County, is the threat of hitting a deer. This will cost thousands of dollars in repairs and increases car insurance rates dramatically. There have been 529 reported deer related accidents in Ridgefield between 1999 and 2004, which is an average of one accident every 3.4 days (Haydock “Deer-Motorist” 2). 23% of the 14,017 deer accidents that have occurred between 1999 and 2004 in Connecticut come from Fairfield County (Haydock “Deer-Motorist” 2). From a town taxpayer’s position, this can be downright disgusting. That is your money that you work forty hours a week to earn, and your taxes jumped because of all the deer that are being hit on town roads. Now the hired town emergency services have to be called out every few days to give aid to a startled driver. A deer now has to be shot by a police officer who is also on scene, and then be dragged off to be properly disposed of by a town highway department official. They are paid by your tax-dollars. Multiply the bill from one accident by about a hundred each year, and you are looking at thousands of dollars every year, because the deer that just got finished eating your garden an defecating in your lawn has now jumped in front of your neighbors car.
It is now time to put serious thought into how to fix this problem. The three main ways are relocation, hunting, and contraception. In may cases relocation is seen as the most humane way of removing deer from an over-populated area. In reality this is the least humane of the three, “When you look at all the causes of death from relocation, 60 to 80 percent of the deer will die from a variety of causes” (Frese 4). To relocate a single deer it will cost anywhere between $400 and $3000 (Savageau 1). If there is an average of sixty deer per square mile and we want to bring those numbers down to a healthy natural rate of ten per square mile, and use a middle price of $1700, then multiply the number of deer removed by the number of square miles in Ridgefield. Then we have a figure of about $3,060,000. Although if you figure the death rate of between sixty and eighty percent, then you are paying over $3 million just to move 360 deer. The rest will just suffer and die.
Although hunting is thought of as the least humane, as an established hunter myself I know that it is actually one of the most humane ways to control deer population. Relocation brings deer to a new environment and about 80% die suffering from trauma, shock, and road kills (Frese 4). Whereas deer, when taken by a skilled honorable hunter can kill a deer in one clean shot inflicting minimal pain and killing the deer in minutes. “Wildlife experts tell us that the expectancy for a typical, healthy doe is to produce 24 off spring in just 12 reproductive years, and that without intervention, her generations multiply each year. Without continuing help from the hunters, conditions here would surely be chaotic for all, including the surviving deer” (Haydock “Alliance on Deer” 3). One main important factor that is often looked over is the fact that deer hunters go through hours of training and have to be licensed by the state in order to legally hunt. Hunters also must pay a decent sum of money in order to renew their licenses each year and buy tags so that they can show proof of legally claiming their game. Another important factor of hunting that is beneficial to the public is that it costs nothing to the residents. Every dollar spent on tags, licenses, butchering, and transportation comes straight from the hunter’s pocket. Speaking as a loyal respectable hunter I don’t know a single hunter who would have the audacity or nerve to demand money from a property owner who more than likely permitted him or her to hunt on his or her land. As we all know hunting is certainly not the most practiced sport in our community, but residents need to respect the choice of hunters who are hunting legally and respectfully. Hunters, who have permission from a landowner, will legally shoot a deer on that property. Residents have to understand that the dead deer is legally the hunter’s property. Nine out of ten times if a hunter has tracked his deer onto your property he or she will respectfully ask permission to discreetly retrieve the animal and remove it from the premises. Don’t jump to conclusions and think that this is some bloodthirsty butcher who is out to kill everything that he or she meets. As a matter of fact most hunters in our community practice the sport much like any other person. They are most likely just the average Joe who you see talking at a supermarket and living out their civilized lives. So treat a hunter with respect and they will treat you respectfully. If there is a problem with a hunter in your area consider talking with him or her and resolving the issue. They don’t need trouble and neither do you.
Contraception is a way of reducing the deer herds in various areas. “The possibility of altering fertility in wild animal species has existed since around 1985, using both contraceptive drugs and more recently vaccines that prevent contraception” (Scholl 1). The vaccination uses a substance known as PZP (porcine zona pellucida), the zona is the layer surrounding the egg that sperm must penetrate, if this material can be taken from pigs and implanted into deer, the immune system would send anti-bodies to attack the membrane, killing the sperm as they try to penetrate (Scholl 1). The first immunocontraceptive vaccine required two doses in order for the anti-bodies to be strong enough to work successfully, and then followed up by an annual booster shot, the darts need to be distributed by a trained marksman and then the deer must be tagged in order for it to be found and get its annual booster (Scholl 1). Anybody knows that this idea is ludicrous with real free ranging deer herds, the odds of a deer being found again and then have an annual booster shot administrated is slim to nil. At this point in time contraception is still just an experiment and is not yet legalized for use on residential free ranging herds, although it is expected to have more of an impact within seven years or so.
We cannot let this problem get worse than it already has, there is estimated to be over 2000 deer in Ridgefield and with the potential of that number doubling each year, it can double the number of Lyme disease cases and car crashes each year. The best solution for a fast and strong reaction on our deer problem is the permission of more deer hunters in residential areas, and the lengthening of deer hunting seasons in Connecticut. As of right now there is only one state permitted hunting area in Ridgefield, Great Swamp Flood Control Area, and is restricted to archery hunting only. It is up to the community to make the decision to allow more hunting in our town that is over-run by deer and the problems that are attached with them. There is no need to get rid of all of the deer in our town, only about seventy-five percent of them, which would still leave a healthy ten deer per square mile. If this is done, the deer lovers can still love their deer and the deer haters can see less of them. The town will save thousands of dollars, which can now be put back into more important places and services. Town residents can drive more confidently on their roads without the constant threat of hitting a deer and sacrificing thousands of dollars, as well as families can feel comfortable letting their children and pets play outside without the fear of a tick which can cause Lyme disease. The deer must go and hunting is the way to do it. No money spent, no suffering deer, and no fearful families, isn’t that the way a town should live?
Frese, Eileen D. "Controlling deer herds: Who has the rights?" West Newsmagazine. 16 May 2005
Haydock, Kent. "Alliance on Deer Season: September 15th-January 31st." Acorn Online. 26 Aug. 2004.
24 May 2005 <http://www.acorn-online.com/deer/>. Path: County Alliance; Deer Hunting.
Haydock, Kent. "Deer-Motorist Collisions Peaking, Alliance Warns." Acorn Online. 24 May 2005
<http://www.acorn-online.com/deer/>. Path: County Alliance; Auto-deer crashes on increase
Kuznik, Frank. "Eating Themselves out of House and Home." National Wildlife Oct.-Nov. 1998: 38-43.
SIRS Researcher. ProQuest Information and Learning. 28 Apr. 2005
"Lyme Disease Expert Predicts Heavy Deer-Tick Infestation." Acorn-Online. Fairfield County Municipal
Deer Management Alliance. 12 May 2005 <http://www.acorn-online.com/deer/
alliancelyme.htm>. Path: County Alliance; Lyme Disease.
Savageau, Denise. "Deer Management Alternatives Reviewed by Alliance." Ridgefield Press 16 Aug.
2004. 24 May 2005 <http://www.acorn-online.com/deer/alliancemanage.htm>.
Scholl, Georgina. "Fertility Control in Animals and Its Application to Deer Herds." Deer Alliance.
SweetPHP. 24 May 2005 <http://www.deeralliance.com/index.php?pageID=24>.
Sesto, Patricia. "Alliance Reminds: Deer Foraging Most Damaging after Foliage Falls." Acorn Online.
15 Oct. 2004. 24 May 2005 <http://www.acorn-online.com/deer/>. Path: County Alliance;
Damage to Environment.
"The Problem." Ridgefield Deer Committee. 22 Apr. 2005. 28 Apr. 2005 <http://www.acorn-online.com/