What to do with all the deer?

A blog post over at the News and Observer site highlights the requests made by citizens in Carrboro and Pittsboro to allow bow hunting in the city limits to help control the deer population. Having lived for a bit in the Chicago area where deer started depleting the forest preserves of all sensitive plant species in the 1980's, I'm particularly sensitive to the effects of deer on sensitive ecosystems. I also know that the deer population, without natural predators, continues to put more and more pressure on plants as time goes by in our area. Bolin Creek spring wildflowers are particularly sensitive to deer overpopulation since they green up before other plants leaf on and they provide sustenance for the herds at their hungriest time. If the population was at a normal rate of 15-20 per square mile instead of ~80 per square mile then this would not be a problem. But with populations higher than ever before (even before European colonization), we are in a real danger of losing the local populations of many of our spring wildflowers and the few rare plants left in the watershed if we take no action.

In Chicago, the deer "issue" tore the environmental community apart for years. I'm hoping our community can avoid that by having a discussion to find common ground. I'd like to hear from other folks on this issue, hear their concerns, their agreements, and generally have a constructive discussion online to talk about this issue and solutions that our community could implement to preserve important ecosystems from blinking out in our watershed.



...other than hunting. Natural predators (cars and pickup trucks) move too slowly in the city limits. I saw several deer at about 11:30 PM on west main street in Carrboro two weeks ago (a little west of the fire house).Since hunting them to reduce them to a more natural balance seems impractical, I wonder if there is some targeted food additive that would reduce their ability to breed? 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year that result in $1 billion in vehicle damage, about 150 human fatalities, and over 10,000 personal injuries. The actual numbers are probably higher because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's figures for deer accidents, rely on inconsistent state reporting- there is no standard reporting of deer accidents in the country yet, and a "reportable deer accident" varies significantly between states. If I were an attorney, I would be just waiting for someone to get hurt and sue both towns for negligence by allowing the deer population to get so out of control and not allowing any hunting. 

Welcome back to Carrboro/Chapel Hill, Rickie!I've always
thought we needed some kind of birth control that could be added to
salt blocks (deer love salt blocks). But if the only other viable
alternative is bow hunting, I would choose that over doing nothing.
Natural selection is not working at keeping their numbers down. It
breaks my heart to see them dead on the side of the road--or worse
injured but not dead. We've killed off all their predators except
ourselves. Now we need to fulfill our role as the sole predators and

Terri,There has been a lot of research over the last decade aimed at developing oral contraceptives that can be delivered in food drops not only for deer but other species that are becoming overpopulated (e.g, rabbits in Australia). There have been promising results with these oral contraceptives as well as with some delivered by darts, etc. The problem with the contraceptives in food drops is that you can't control who gets it and how much they get. For instance, a single doe could consume 5-10 times the necessary dose. Also, what happens if other species happen to eat the food, etc.This line of research is being very actively pursued by many researchers in many countries for obvious reasons but is probably years away (unfortunately) from being a practical solution.


 It's good to be back. I thought I'd start my time back in Carrboro by throwing out the most controversial eco-idea out there.  :)  I'm not sure that there is an effective contraceptive that would last for more than a few months that you could add to food.  But I'm not a veterinarian, so I don't know.  It would be a good thing to find out.

Bow hunting? Absolutely not. I am not a fan of hunting, as I am PETA supporter, but I do understand that hunting for some people means putting food on the table. I respect that. I know plenty of hunters who respect the life of the animal by making their death as quick and painless as a single shot could be. They also use all of the deer and only eat meat from what they have hunted.Bow hunting is unnecessarily cruel.  You know what else is cruel? People not being aware of the fact that there are animals who do not understand the human concept of "right of way" while crossing a road.  I understand that sometimes you cannot help but kill an animal in the moment while driving, but at the rate I see dead animals on the road, I find it hard to believe that it is not anything but somebody speeding up and not caring.I would be for some sort of "birth control." I am dead against bow hunting for population control. I happen to really love and thoroughly enjoy waking up every morning, stepping outside with a cup of coffee in hand, and watching the family of dear in my backyard.     “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

Nobody hits a deer with their car on purpose. 

I said Animals, Catherine, not deer. However, I do believe there are people who do not value animals as much as others. So, it is not completely "unreal" to imagine the feasibility of at least one person speeding up or not slowing down when they see a baby deer on Jones Ferry road. Really? Really.
Because I've seen it plenty of times with possums, squirrels, and yes, deer. But I'm the type of person who breaks for turtles, so that is my Real-ilty.

"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained." Helen Keller

Let me get this right.  There are people that want deer hunted in urban areas, that is, use lethal force whether its bows or guns or whatever in Carrboro.  The way I understand it there are now specific days and times when deer hunting takes place in Duke Forest but it is very controlled and the part of the forest that is being culled is closed to the public.  I don’t know how this could be applied in an urban or suburban area.   Does the County have rules about how close to a dwelling a gun can be discharged? Bolin Creek is mentioned above.  From what I have observed on upper Bolin Creek, the problem is much more a decrease in habitat due to development than it is due to an increase in the overall deer population.  From what I know about development plans, it is likely to get much worse.  I also suspect the new proposed (?) stream buffer rules will make it even worse because they will (if I understand them correctly) decrease the buffer size on upper Bolin Creek and make their use as wildlife corridors less likely.Is it deer or development and the increase in impervious surface that is having the greater effect on sensitive eco-systems? 

The question is what to do with the overpopulation of deer. Whether or not reduction of habitat is a contributing factor, I seriously doubt development will be undone. This still leaves the problem of what to do about the deer. Town/Municipal ordinances dictate the legal/illegal use of weapons within the boundaries and yes I think it is based on population density. I think the reason for the bow hunting suggestion is 1) a hunter must get much closer to a deer to successfully hunt it with a bow (more skill/stealth) and 2) a bow is not as lethal as a long gun is over long distances.I also think the hunting would likely be done from trees with the weapon (bow) pointed down to minimize excess arrow travel in the event of a miss. 

I guess I have more tolerance for deer because I don’t think it has gotten to that point yet.  Perhaps I am wrong, but the deer look relative healthy to me, maybe, because all the development going on is giving them plenty of food.  I guess this discussion is planning for the future.  By the way I am not willing to tolerate that much “not as lethal” in my backyard.

The News and Observer reported that a cougar has been observed in Chapel Hill.

If the cougar-spotters weren't hallucinating, then let the good-natured fun begin.  Surely there are county and municipal ordinances (laws) against hunting in populated areas.  There seems to be no law against shooting guns into the air, seeing how common it is to hear them on Saturday nights right here in town.  New Year's Eve in Durham sounds like war. 

True, Catherine.

So now imagine those same people with a bow and arrow in their hands on a Saturday night.

"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained." Helen Keller

 Hey Catherine,For you and any one else interested, I have seen a coyote in Carrboro.  Are there really gun shots in Carrboro on Saturday nights?  How do you know they are into the air?  Does anyone call the police?

Actually, deer habitat is INCREASING in our area as our suburban development patterns increase.  Generally, deer need two things - food and shelter.  They are quite happy as long as they have a tiny patch of woods to hide in and rest in during the day and can come out to munch on lawns, creek corridors with lots of green leafys, and certain shrubs that they prefer the most.  This is exactly the landscape we have built in and around Carrboro.  One of the issues we have here is that we are changing the environment around us to be more beneficial to certain animals and plants that can adapt (deer, coyotes, starlings) and less beneficial/completely deadly to other animals that are either on the decline or disappeared from our area long ago (otters, forest interior birds such as wood thrush, spring wildflowers).  By controlling deer populations, we potentially have a cascade effect on other plants and animals that are feeling the pressure of the deer populations.  With lower deer population there is more forage food for other herbivores that might still be left.   There are ordinances against shooting in city limits, but I'd urge everyone to keep an open mind about potential control methods.  Perhaps we could work with Duke Forest folks who already have a control program, to try to extend it to certain larger forest patches around Carrboro to alleviate population pressure.  I do enjoy seeing deer from time to time, but I don't believe its particularly healthy to have the herd of 4 does and a buck that I see daily living 1 block from downtown and feeding in the middle of the day.  This tells me that they are being pushed outinto suboptimal habitat and have the potential to have a really difficult winter of starvation.  But before they starve, they'll surely take as much of the plant material around us that they can.  I would urge everyone to understand that no action is still an action.  By standing by and doing nothing to control the deer population we are promoting the quicker demise of sensitive plant and animal species in our area, we are potentially creating a herd that will have serious starvation issues in even mild winters, and we are often thinking of aesthetics (how cool to have a herd in my yard) over humane actions (thinning the herd to allow the individuals that do exist to lead healthful lives).I don't think this issue is going to be the highest priority on any towns agenda, but I would like to see this discussion continue so that when the town does take it up, we can have a useful debate and come up with most humane pragmatic approach available. 

So if deer habitat is increasing because of development, some of the pressure on the sensitive ecosystems that you are concerned about will be removed.  In fact the more development we have the better it will be for the sensitive ecosystems and the deer.  Wow, who knew the solution would be so easy, so painless for the deer and so profitable for developers.Actually what I meant above was that development and the impervious surface that goes with it might be having more of an effect on sensitive ecosystems  in riparian zones (and elsewhere) than the deer.I don’t fully understand the effect of connectivity but I understand it is often important for species (and ecosystem) survival.  I have seen studies on its importance for some bird and mammal species.  I wonder if our greenway planning gives any consideration to the need for wildlife corridors.

Where exactly would people go bow hunting within town limits if that were allowed?  The places that come to my mind intuitively seem too densely-populated/commonly-visited (Horace Williams Tract, Adams Tract, Wilson Park etc.)  I can think of some places near Carrboro that might work, but they are all outside of Carrboro Town Limits, so a) the BOA has no say-so about hunting there and b) I think hunting is already allowed in those places (unless the County has some hunting regs taht I don't know about).

....dimensionally. If a tree stand is employed a *much* smaller radius of fire is available with a backstop of the earth. I do not mind at all if people take deer right behind my house from a tree stand. I would however have a problem with them standing out in the woods and shooting them from the ground.

The Chicago area has dealt with high densities of deer for decades before this became a problem for us.  So they have already had many of the debates and are now, municipality by municipality, addressing the issue.  We could learn a lot from them.

 Chicago Wilderness magazine has some very informative and enlightened articles on deer and their impacts on ecosystems.  The article I linked to was from 2000 and is a question/answer session with local experts and activists about control methods, etc.  We should really be thinking of looking towards models produced by other cities instead of reinventing the wheel.  One city (Highland Park) limited their hunt the first year to one tract of land as a test.  Might this be possible in a limited way along the creek corridor of Morgan Creek or in conjunction with Chapel Hill on the Carolina North tract? 

 Or maybe there is a cheap, effective contraceptive on the market that I'm just not aware of that we could test out?  What a great graduate thesis project for some ecology student at Duke or Carolina!


Re: News and Observor -- There are plenty of cougars in the Chapel Hill / Carrboro area already. Just check out the Crunkleton.

 (someone had to say it, right?)

 I have no issues with hunting, whether by bow or by firearm, but within the city limits seems a bit odd. I'm relatively new here, so I'm assuming we're not talking about arrows flying across the Weaver Steet lawn at brunch, but I'm not sure where this hunting would take place.

 Some sort of oral contraception would probably be more practical. But like I said, I have no issues with hunting.

It is certain the Town will not allow hunting within city limits.  The liability is too great, and there are a lot of lawyers who would go after all institutions and people involved should anybody get hurt in any way.If the deer population is out of hand (have experts been consulted?...NC State people in forestry come to mind, among others), and if the population has to be culled, then I'd think there are ways to minimizie liability for the decision makers.  What has been done in other areas, for example:--where Lyme disease was a big issue:  http://www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/index.php?option=com_content&view=a... --deer birth control:  http://www.all-creatures.org/hope/deer-20070930-2.htm and http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C07EFDD1731F932A0575BC0A... and the latter article has some interesting information:"In Princeton, N.J., for instance, a plan to trap and kill deer to
reduce their swelling numbers caused a furor, and lawsuits. Plans to
collect and gas resident Canada geese that foul parks in Rockland
County, N.Y., prompted demonstrations, anger and the formation of the
Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese. Similar
situations occur in many areas where attempts are made to control
animals. Presumably, contraceptives, a part of human experience for
many suburbanites, would be less controversial."  

We're lucky to have the Duke Forest as a resource when thinking about "forest experts" and "deer experts".  And by the way, I'm a plant ecologist and have worked on monitoring plant populations for effects from different stressors during my career.  The Duke Forest folks (including Jud Edeburn) have looked at the literature and done their own counts in their forest tracts in Durham, Orange, and Alamance counties and have found concentrations 4 times higher than what the carrying capacity of the land can hold.  Now Carrboro hasn't done a similar study, but one can assume that deer populations are fairly consistent throughout the county (although one can argue that deer populations in the city limits might be significantly higher or lower than the surroundings due to different factors.

As for deer birth control, I have not yet found a study that shows an effective and cost efficient way to do deer birth control.  As George mentioned in another post, most of the potentially promising deer birth control methods are not yet well tested and available at a reasonable rate.  The ones that cities int he Chicago suburbs tried to use a decade ago ended up being a colossal waste of money because they were not effective at reducing the deer herd.




Our deer and forest expert neighbors in Duke Forest have resorted to hunting the deer.

Orange County shoud allow the same. 


Deer hunting is legal in Orange County under pretty much the same rules as any other county, isn't it?

I remember before moving to Chapel Hill in '89 hearing a story about an over population of beavers that were causing flooding problems  Chapel Hill supposedly captured male beavers and gave them vasectomies.  I thought it was a hilarious story and have no idea if was true.So get those dart guns and scalpels out.  Of course one has to be careful about aiming those darts.  We would not want any tranqued up Carrbonians, would we?

Maybe we can get OWASA to put something in our drinking water so we stop overpopulating the right of way of the deer. At lease give the deer some quivers and bows.

Dave, during that period in the late 80's there was a big problem with beavers damaging (damming) creeks and lakeside property in Chapel Hill.  The homeowners took action by trapping beavers.  At least one neighborhood association hired trappers to do the job right.  It's entirely possible that someone made up a humane-sounding story about capturing and sterilizing the varmints, but they basically slaughtered a whole bunch of beavers. 

Yeah, there really wasn't anything all that humane about it.  They killed the beavers flat out - using poisoned bait as I recall.  It was in the early 1990's.  As I recall, part of the issue was that NC state law makes it illegal to trap and re-release beavers.  You can kill them, but you can't move them.

Mark, That's a strange law...  What is the rationale?   Moving to a progressive town was attractive to us coming from Saugerties NY which is next to Woodstock.  The beaver lore came up a few times. But that was back in '89.   I spread the story to some friends not familiar with where I was moving.    I guess it was too good to be true. Tant pis.

I imagine the law probably relates to the fact that beavers can spread things like giardia around since they are mammals living (and pooping) in potential water supplies.  But who knows why that law is on the books.  There are often unintended (bad) consequences associated with moving animals.  For instance, I've heard that moving box turtles is a very bad idea since they spend their lives walking along the same trails and get to "know" their home range very well.  When moved to a new area, they are at a sever disadvantage because they are lost all the time and they also now have to compete with the box turtles whose home range you've placed them in.  So often the humane treatment, in the long run, may not be so humane either.

That is true, but I think it's bascially just because beavers are pretty much a nuisance to farmers and if trap your problems beavers, then you are doing it to make them into someone else's problem beavers.

Beaver dams are also causes of sewer line backups. There was an incident with OWASA and beavers a few years ago. I remember the solution to removing the dam caused a big stink (!) but don't remember the details.

This is basically what I remember also but the way it was put to me was -- There is just no place to put them in North Carolina.  Haven't they made a remarkable recovery since as recently as the 50s and 60s?


I think beavers were all but exterminated from NC in the early 1900's.In addition to the problems that Terri noted above, beavers can be a problem for forest managers because they end up flooding large areas of low lying forest - areas that would naturally be flooded only occasionally end up being flooded constantly.  Of course, beavers have always done this to some extent, but with no natural predators, they do it a lot more now - or so I am told.

I remember the uproar over the trapping, but can't remember how it was
resolved. This was when Dow Jones owned The News, so I doubt it's in
the online archives. One thing considered was using Norplant, which Boulder had done to control deer. I wrote something in a column at the time suggsting that the most Chapel Hill solution would be to counsel the beavers about the benefits of smaller familes.

My recollection is that pro-beaver forces came to the Chapel Hill Town Council to intervene on behalf of beaverdom, but our hands were tied by the state laws re: beaver trapping.  I think we requested that the NC Legislature consider a change, but naturally they did not take up the issue.In the end the pro-beaver folks went to a meeting of the homeowners association in question and were booted out of the meeting.  The HOA hired a beaver contorl guy who used some sort of poisoned bait to kill them.  I could have a few details mixed; it was 15+ years ago.

This site has a lot of interesting articles. It sounds like their goal is good management with the assumption that hunting is the most appropriate tactic for reaching that goal. I'd be interested in references where they weigh the pros and cons of hunting. http://www.whitetailstewards.com/articlesonsite/mainarticlepages/deerpop...This Wildlife NC site has some interesting information also although I could have done without the processing beaver pelts section.http://www.ncwildlife.org/pg07_WildlifeSpeciesCon/pg7f1f1.htm

from the N&O column "We have large areas of public land within the subdivisions that could be hunted in safely."I grew up with hunting. We did not have hunting in the city limits.If you were in the city limits and you were a kid, it was safe to play wherever, in the creeks, in the woods. If you visited a friend in the county, then you wore blaze orange during hunting season, even if you were walking across the road to grandmother's house. The bow and arrow may be less lethal, but honestly, I don't want to get shot with them. Nor do I want the kids in this town to have to learn a complicated set of rules about where there are people with bows and arrows and where there are not. "Okay, so in this subdivision, the walking path is okay, but don't play in the creek, in this other subdivision, the big open field is good but in this other one, it's not." Though I suppose it could be a deterrent to teenagers sneaking off in the woods to smoke. The county where I grew up also had a deer overpopulation problem. The deer were eating the crops. And then they came down town and crashed through a store window. The property damage  happened subsequent to a wooded area on the very edge of town being razed and turned into apartments.  People with homes on the edges of those woods also began to find deer in their yards for the first time. Coincidental?  Either way the county did not institute hunting in the towns.  As well as the absence of natural predators, there had also been a decline in hunting licenses issued and a believed decrease in hunting as an activity.  They asked the question - how can we encourage more hunting in the county?  It seems to me that's not a bad question -- how can we find ways for people who want to hunt to hunt safely  in Orange County where it's legal and cull the deer population that frequents the edges of town? Classes? Educations programs? Maps of where hunting is allowed? Partnership programs between hunters and farms?  

and ammo for everyone!Hunting is a bit of a dying "art" if you will. It’s a lot of work, To hunt responsibly it takes skill, and an enormous amount of patience. You typically get up early in the morning and are in cramped quarters most of the day. There is a lot of work involved in dressing the prey and carrying it out of the woods. There are not many deer rendering facilities anymore, so you need to be a butcher too. The reward is not what it used to be either. Because the deer population is out of control and very small/scrawny. For years they only allowed hunting the males, or had an abbreviated doe season so, a trophy deer is rare (and honestly I think some of the finer specemins should be protected). Since I have not hunted in more than 20 years and never here in North Carolina, I may be mistaken about the reasons, but I think all in all that is why you have fewer hunters.

I have acquaintances in Seattle who pay to get taken out by "professionals" to hunt deer.  The professionals then take care of much of the above.I

the first instance of a bloody, dying deer staggering into a school playground or somebody's backyard?

....a new episode of South Park in the making.

A buck was hit by a car in front of my daughter's preschool and was seizing in the front yard as the kids were dropped off. I am happy to say that I called public works and told them what had happened and they came over and got the carcass promptly. Yay public works!

This thread reminds me... apparently the Carnivore Preservation Trust is interested in hearing about any freshly road killed deer so that they can send someone to pick it up to feed the tigers and other endangered creatures at their farm.  I'm told the number to call is 919 542 4684.  I know, it sounds kinda sketchy, but I promise you don't have to ask for Guido.  It sounds like a much better idea than having public works take it to the dump or wherever they might take it.

Kudos to Carrboro Alderman Haven-O'Donnell for bringing up the issue of deer overpopulation in town.  Check out the News and Observer blog's coverage of the Carrboro deer issue.  I think it's useful to start the conversation at the town level of potential ways to work with the university, the county, and Duke Forest personnel to coordinate efforts to control the wide ranging deer populations in the county.

I'm such a city girl, deer sightings are cause for excitement.  I have no gripes about deer whatsoever; they're welcome to eat whatever they want in my yard.  From this office window, I have a clear view of busy North Greensboro Street.  It's no longer unusual for one or more deer to wander into the back yard -- up to five at a time!  This tells me there must be dozens living in the "woods" near by.  Before there's any further talk about controlling the deer population in town, I'd like to see a few street signs advertising their presence.   

at the Town Council meeting that starts at 7pm on Monday if anyone can make it.

Not trying to start up the whole should we or shouldn't we shoot the deer discussion, but were others aware that hunting and killing of deer already takes place in Chapel Hill during the months of January and February?News to me.  I'm sure at some point in January and February this year, on one of my hiking adventures in Chapel Hill, I might have accidentally crossed over onto some private land a couple of times.  I thought I was safe from hunters here.Can someone confirm for me that Carrboro hasn't also quietly allowed hunting of deer as well- and kept it quiet?  If so, that would be another reason to avoid P.H. Craig's land during the winter months!And could this statement attributed to Chapel Hill resident, Rob Reda be accurate?“I talked to Mayor Kleinschmidt just before that April [2010] meeting and asked him . . . if bow hunting at private land was allowed in Chapel Hill during the regular (archery and gun) seasons and he said, ‘Yes, it is.'“However, most of the town council didn’t know this. The only laws on the town books discuss use of firearms (inside city limits), which is prohibited. There is no discussion about bows and arrows (in Chapel Hill’s town regulations). However, a few property owners who are hunters knew about it and have been hunting deer with archery equipment.”“Most of the town council didn’t know this.”  Maybe someone should tell them.Deer Hunting Allowed in Chapel Hill on Private LandRE:  "on private land"  Are Chapel Hill residents actually allowed to shoot deer in their backyards - is this sport- to shoot a deer from your deck in a suburban neighborhood?


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