Urban fawns: A beautiful menace?

Posted on: April 25, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Deer 1Bob Frye / Tribune-Review
A very pregnant doe wanders along the edge of a subdivision. Chances are very good her fawn or fawns — twins are common — will survive.

Ask the average whitetail hunter about the picture he sees in his mind’s eye when he dreams of kneeling over the buck of a lifetime and certain things probably surface.

Maybe he’s in a food plot of his own making, Maybe he’s in a remote woodland, by a stream. Maybe he’s on the family farm.

Chances are he’s not picturing himself shooting around the neighbor’s swing set.

Of course, that’s just the kind of place deer populations can and do get thickest, in the suburbs, where the living is easy. Whitetails are remarkably adaptable and have shown, all across the country, year after year, that they can and do thrive around people.

That’s always been problematic.

Don’t expect things to get easier going forward. That’s the prediction of one researcher, who sees all of those deer living in the suburbs as a threat of sorts.

Tim Carter, a biology professor at Ball State University, studied fawn survival rates. He and crews of students collared and followed 119 fawns from urban and rural landscapes in 2013 and 2014 and monitored their fates. They found that fawns living in urban areas are more than twice as likely to survive as those born in rural areas.

Predators impact fawns in rural areas, his work found. They don’t in the suburbs.

Indeed, when living amongst people, only collisions with vehicles were a significant mortality factor for fawns.

To him, that suggests that “many Midwestern communities could soon be overrun with white-tailed deer.”

“We were very surprised by the sheer number of fawns able to reach adulthood in an urban area than in rural areas,” Carter said. “If it seems like everywhere you turn there is a deer, it’s because they are surviving at very high rates. But that is because of a variety of reasons, including fewer predators and the lack of hunting.”

Carter’s work was specific to the Midwest, but that sure sounds like conditions here in the East, too, doesn’t it?

What to do about all of those deer, if anything, is the question, Carter said.

He likened the growing deer population to a “ticking time bomb” due to increased interactions with humans, including property and vehicle damage.

“Simply, the deer are having young ones that are able to survive in large numbers and then breed in a never-ending cycle,” Carter said. “The numbers of white-tailed deer will expand at a high rate unless such communities manage to control the populations. It is already a hot topic because many people are tired of dealing with the animals that seem to be everywhere and causing problems.”

Here, Pennsylvania Game Commissioners want communities to give hunting a shot.

At their most recent meeting, they gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would require municipalities and other political subdivisions that want to cull deer using sharpshooters or other methods have to first show they tried using hunting.

Information on how hunting was used previously, and how it will be used during the cull, must be included in any application for a deer control permit.

Final approval of the idea is expected when the boards next meets in July.

Fawn--weighingStudents from Ball State University weigh a fawn captured in an urban area.

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.