People in New York City expect to contend with millions of other humans. They don’t always realize that in some boroughs they also live side by side with thousands of bucks, does and fawns. So recently the city plastered its transit system with ads that carried pictures of these wild city residents and two words: “New Yorker.”
The message is one the Humane Society of the United States hopes more communities will spread. For years, the HSUS has helped cities and towns that once might have hired sharpshooters or recruited bow hunters to reduce deer numbers to contracept or sterilize deer instead. Now it’s giving advocates a new toolkit to persuade communities to take a more comprehensive approach toward resolving conflicts nonlethally.
“The goal is to stop the knee-jerk reaction—‘We’ve got to kill them,’ ” says John Griffin, senior director of the HSUS urban wildlife program. “The idea is to get people to think about these animals in a different way—not as nuisances, not as pests. These animals are part of the ecosystem. This is habitat they belong in.”
In New York, thousands of deer live in and around wooded areas and parks in the Bronx and on Staten Island. The city is sterilizing male deer on Staten Island, work that appears to have stopped deer numbers from growing. The city also puts up signs warning drivers to slow down along roads deer frequently cross and protects vegetation with fences, tree guards and repellents. The city is planting species deer tend to avoid and educating New Yorkers to use those “least-preferred” species in their gardens. Rather than scapegoating deer for the spread of Lyme disease, the city teaches residents how to avoid getting sick.
The first step toward resolving human-deer conflict is to address the misconception that there are too many deer, says Griffin. Just because residents see deer doesn’t mean there are too many. It could just mean that an ecosystem is returning to closer to normal. Plants in the U.S. evolved to be browsed by deer, but during the early- to mid-20th century deer had been nearly exterminated from many areas.
Advocates can use the new toolkit to influence community leaders interested in their constituents’ concerns, says Lynsey White, HSUS director of human-wildlife conflict resolution. Toolkit strategies require communities to slow down, gather information, thoughtfully consider problems residents report, check that responses work and have patience. That’s better than an endless cycle of complaints and anger and frustration, Griffin says. And in the long run, it benefits both deer and humans.
The deer toolkit provides a step-by-step guide for communities, including a sample public survey on encounters with deer and a sample resolution for a deer management program like New York City’s.