Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Proliferation of deer poses challenges

April 4, 2001

The deer standing in the average U.S. yard today are probably not painted concrete statues. Urban sprawl and suburban deer herds have been developing together. We have been getting questions on controlling deer in housing areas.

Firearm laws within city limits, a lack of predators and an abundance of manicured landscaping can all increase deer populations.

"Cities are refuges (for deer)," said Charles Lee, Kansas State University's wildlife damage control specialist.

U.S. winters rarely cut into deer numbers except in the most northern states. So any landscape can be at risk each spring, when deer and fawns select their grazing territories for the coming growing season.

"Chasing them out after they've learned your landscape and garden provide good eating can be very difficult," Lee said.

Deer tend to be creatures of habit, however. So if they learn not to like a yard in early spring, they'll tend to leave it alone.

"You basically have to teach the deer to go elsewhere," the specialist said. "You can set up adversarial conditions that include frightening devices or repellents."

Dogs tend to be natural adversaries. If left outdoors, they can do a good job of frightening deer away in a matter of days, Lee said. But, local leash laws and noise ordinances may limit the role dogs can play in protecting valuable plantings.

That's why the specialist believes the most effective approach for many city dwellers is to shop at a farm supply store.

"For gardens, I recommend polyethylene fence netting that's reinforced with strands of stainless steel. It comes in widths of up to about 40 inches, and you can mount it on fiberglass posts. Get some stainless steel-reinforced polyethylene tape, too, and an energizer to put a charge through the metal strands," Lee said.

This type of fencing also will cut down on raccoon and rabbit damage. And, although it won't be a physical barrier for deer which can easily jump above 6 feet the fence can be a psychological barrier.

"The idea is to make sure deer see your fence, but they stop to smell or lick it before they jump so they get a shock. You bait the fence with something like peanut oil, peanut butter or apple flavor," he said. "The electrical charge won't physically harm the deer or, for that matter, the raccoons or rabbits or neighborhood cat. If you can get them to touch it, though, the shock should frighten wildlife into looking elsewhere for food."

Lee suggests this setup to protect gardens:

A perimeter of two-foot-wide netting mounted on posts, starting at ground level.

A ribbon-like row of tape, six inches above the top of the netting.

Another tape row, 12 inches above the first one.

Bait spread at intervals on tapes and netting.

Some neighborhood agreements may not allow such an atypical- looking arrangement. In that case, a strategy that sometimes works is to frighten deer away with an impressive noise display.

"Make sure you check local ordinances before you try this," Lee advised. "And remember you'll have to create the noise when the deer are present which can mean losing some sleep and bothering your neighbors."

Noisy leftover fireworks can do the job, he said. Or, homeowners can investigate the shellcrackers, whistle bombs and propane cannons that farmers use to try to frighten deer away from crop fields.

Deer control repellents are available in most nurseries and garden supply stores.

"I personally haven't had consistent success with them, but people have told me about instances of repellents working very well," Lee said. "As you might expect, some seem to be more effective than others. A rotten egg odor may work best. Some fungicide and hot pepper-based products are pretty good, too.

"Read the product label before buying, though. Some repellents are safe to use on fruit and vegetable crops, and some aren't. Some don't stay effective very long, particularly in wet conditions. "

I have heard of people having some success by hanging bars of fragrant soap in the area to be protected as the deer tend to avoid the smell. This may become ineffective as time goes by.

Only two things have much chance of keeping today's ever-increasing suburban deer populations in check.

"Through much of the United States, suburban deer aren't likely to starve," said Lee, "The more concentrated they get, however, the more danger they'll become to themselves and to city motorists and the greater the herd's odds will be for developing diseases.

"By that time, of course, they may already have killed out the understory in wooded areas and caused other non-reversible damage to the environment changing the landscape permanently. We don't see those kinds of impacts in most rural habitat because predators and wildlife management policies such as hunting keep the deer numbers in balance."

Moving deer out of town is no real solution, he added. Other deer herds already are populating the available rural space.

But one alternative is to open a suburban hunting season, Lee said.

"History has shown that hunters are willing to help and are effective in reducing deer numbers," he said. "Well-trained, experienced hunters can safely remove deer in suburban areas without major problems."

For that to happen, city governments would have to deal with their own laws and regulations and "perhaps develop a management plan that looks at all options for deer control," the specialist said.

"That's being talked about now in the Kansas City area. It's already been done in places such as Chicago and St. Louis," Lee said. "It's much safer for city residents and more humane for the deer than waiting for disease or car traffic to do the job."


Youth between the ages of 14 and 16, who plan to work on a farm this summer other than for their parents are required by law to complete the Hazardous Occupations Training Course.

The course includes instruction about tractor, machinery, and livestock safety. The course is jointly sponsored and taught by K-State Research and Extension of Leavenworth, Douglas, and Johnson counties.

The course will be taught during four evening sessions from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 9, 16, 23, and April 30. The classes will be at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in DeSoto.

Registration is $10, to pay for the materials. For more information, call the Leavenworth County extension office at (913) 250-2300, or the Johnson County office, (913) 764-6300.

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