Deer Conflicts

doe hunter

Deer/Human Conflicts

While white-tailed deer are highly valued by Michigan residents, conflicts between deer and humans occur at various levels of intensity across the State. Damage to agricultural and horticultural crops, suppressed forest regeneration, high rates of deer-vehicle collisions, and destruction of landscaping and other property by deer in urban/suburban areas can be significant. People engaged in these conflicts frequently request assistance from the DNR and these conflicts must be considered when deer management decisions and policies are developed. While the DNR attempts to minimize deer-human conflicts by managing deer numbers at appropriate levels through recreational hunting, development and implementation of new strategies will be necessary to successfully manage deer numbers in areas where hunting has not been effective.

Deer readily feed on a variety of agricultural crops and can reduce yields significantly. Agriculture is an enormous part of Michigan's economy and in 2007 more than 55,000 farms encompassing over 10 million acres, produced a net farm income of $2.03 billion and generated $71.3 billion in economic activity. Michigan ranks 19th nationally in total cash receipts for agricultural products and is the leading producer of crops such as dry beans, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, and bedding and garden plants in the U.S. (USDA 2009). Agricultural crops are damaged by deer in most Michigan counties, but most significant damage occurs in areas where deer numbers are high and agricultural crops are common on the landscape.

The DNR attempts to minimize deer damage to crops and ornamental plants through a variety of tools. Non-lethal methods that are frequently recommended to landowners by DNR staff include the use of fencing, repellents, habitat alterations, and dogs. These methods have shown some short-term effectiveness, but can be expensive and labor-intensive. Regulated shooting of deer in conjunction with non-lethal methods has generally been the most effective strategy. The DNR issues Deer Damage Control Permits (DDCPs) to farmers experiencing excessive crop damage during the growing season, and provides opportunities for appropriate harvest of antlerless deer during the hunting seasons by making sufficient antlerless licenses available.

Where necessary, the DNR issues the authority to purchase additional antlerless deer licenses called Deer Management Assistance Permits (DMAPs) to eligible land owners for use during the hunting seasons. In some areas, these tools have not been effective at reducing crop damage and alternative methods are needed.

Another significant conflict between deer and humans is deer-vehicle collisions. Approximately 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur on U.S. roads annually and Michigan ranks second in the country in reported collisions. In 2008, 61,010 deer-vehicle collisions were reported in Michigan resulting in 12 human deaths and 1,648 injuries to the persons involved (Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning 2009). Reduction of deer numbers in areas where deervehicle collisions present a significant public safety concern is imperative, as are education campaigns that promote safe driving and explain what to do when deer are present on roads.

As deer have adapted to living among humans and densely populated areas, they have moved into urban/suburban areas across the state. Increasing numbers of urban deer-vehicle collisions and excessive damage to landscaping are the most common problems associated with deer in these settings. In addition, concerns of disease associated with an abundant deer population living so closely with humans (e.g. Lyme's disease) also arise.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect in all of white-tailed deer management is the issue of how to best manage deer in these urban/suburban areas where use of lethal control as a management tool is frequently unavailable and community members often have highly polarized views and values regarding deer management. Successful resolution of urban/suburban deer issues requires that community leaders and DNR staff work together with stakeholders to gain acceptance of proven methods and utilize them to successfully reduce human-deer conflicts. Currently, the DNR advises community leaders, assists in the development of deer management plans, participates on local task forces, speaks at public meetings, conducts disease testing, and provides permits for lethal harvest, but lacks a defined process that can be implemented consistently across the State.

The DNR encourages additional harvest of antlerless deer, especially on private lands, in order
to lower deer population levels in some areas. Discounted prices on antlerless licenses, additional antlerless seasons, and educational efforts aimed at increasing antlerless harvest have failed to encourage hunters to harvest enough antlerless deer to keep numbers at reasonable levels in some areas of the state. Some landowners are unwilling to require their hunters to harvest antlerless deer and guest hunters often choose to focus harvest efforts on antlered bucks.

DNR efforts to engage organizations such as Michigan State University Extension, Farm Bureau, and MUCC to connect farmers seeking reductions in deer with hunters seeking hunting opportunities may be productive. In addition, the effectiveness of deer management tools must be evaluated thoroughly. Current programs may be too voluntary in nature, lacking adequate incentives to change behaviors and to increase the harvest of antlerless deer. It is foreseeable that recreational hunting may no longer be adequate to manage the deer herd in some places in southern Michigan.