DEER DAMAGE: ITS NATURE AND EXTENT
March 9, 2022
The overabundant U.S. deer population (roughly 30 million according to most sources) is doing lots of damage. But it does different sorts of damage in different places, and the means available to control that damage in those places likewise differ. So in lieu of a magic formula for drastically reducing the national deer herd’s size, it’s worth taking a brief look at the kinds of damage done by deer.
Deer Accidents: Vehicle Collisions
Deer do their most spectacular damage on highways through deer-vehicle collisions. These deer accidents are common.
Around 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, deer caused about a million such accidents a year. They killed some 200 motorists, injured something like 10,000 others, and producing vehicle damage totaling roughly a billion dollars.
Deer Damage to Crops
Besides the deer accidents on highways, deer also devour crops. National statistics are hard to come by. However, a 2002 New York State survey found farmers in that state reporting deer damage to crops totaling nearly $60 million. And a 2018 survey by the New Jersey Farm Bureau found many respondents reporting deer damages of $10,000+ per farm.
These figures could have been exaggerated by some respondents, and they aren’t necessarily representative of other states or years. Even so, it seems clear that deer damage to farm crops is extensive.
Damage to Yards and Gardens
Similarly, and even notoriously, deer in rural and suburban areas harm landscape and garden plants. There’s no easy way to assess the overall damage. However, many companies like ours that do a thriving business selling yard and garden deer fences, deer repellents, and other countermeasures. This fact, by itself, shows that the problem is large and worth attention.
Deer Damage to Forests
Besides spreading out onto highways, farms, and suburbs, our bloated deer population is also doing damage to the forests that are its native haunts. In this vein, several recent studies have shown that abundant white-tailed deer grazing in forests prefer eating native plants. This lets various non-woody invasive species take over, something that can have a strong negative impact on the affected forests.
From a human perspective, the significance of the forest dynamic is dwarfed by the growing problem of deer-related Lyme disease. This ailment is our country’s most prevalent vector-borne disease. It appears to afflict some 400,000 Americans per year and to generate annual medical costs as high as $1.3 billion.
Deer do not cause Lyme disease, but they carry the black-legged ticks that spread it. So, while the picture is complex, it seems clear that without deer the problem would be absent or very small.
To one degree or another, all these difficulties have been brought on by the size of our nation’s huge deer population, which in general terms has caused deer to damage their own natural environment, promote disease, and drift into problematic places. On a minor scale, this seems to mirror the climate change, pandemic, and immigration/refugee problems faced by the world’s growing human population. So, in seeking answers to the deer problem, including long-term deer control and local stopgaps like deer fencing (equivalent to walls?), it may be worth pausing to contemplate our own future and perhaps take a larger lesson from the deer.
Jonathan Leonard, Manager
McGregor Fence Company LLC
Booth-Binczik A, Hurst J. Deer Management in Urban and Suburban Areas of New York State. New York Department of Environmental Conservation. December 31, 2018.
Editors of EarthSky. Overgrazing by Deer Is Changing the Face of U.S. Forests. EarthSky. March 18, 2014.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Lyme Disease Costs Up to 1.3 Billion Per Year to Treat, Study Finds. February 5, 2015.
Moody J. Oh Deer! Deer Damage and What Farmers Can Do about It. Agfuse.com. May 21, 2018.
Skroch M, St. Hilaire T. Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions are a Big and Costly Problem and Congress Can Help. PEW Trusts. May 10, 2021.