Deer Conflicts: Urban/Suburban Deer Management

Urban/Suburban Deer Management

The DNR will begin the process of creating an Urban Management Plan in the near future. In the mean time, please find the following information:

White-tailed deer are an important part of the culture in Michigan. As white-tailed deer have expanded in number and adjusted to living in and around urban areas, they have taken up permanent or semi-permanent residence in many Michigan communities. With adequate cover and food available deer successfully navigate sidewalks, traffic and backyard fences, appearing quite comfortable with daily interactions involving humans, barking dogs and vehicles. Management of urban/suburban deer populations can be difficult. Similarly, as deer populations increase and conflicts with deer arise, different expectations, concerns, and values make addressing these conflicts problematic.


Deer populations in rural settings are managed nearly exclusively by recreational hunting with the exception of utilizing deer damage shooting permits for addressing specific situations. However, these lethal techniques face several challenges to application in many urban/suburban areas including: (1) real or perceived safety concerns, (2) conflicting social attitudes and perceptions about wildlife, (3) hunting and firearm- discharge restrictions, and (4) liability or public relations concerns (DeNicola 2000).

Urban/Suburban Deer Issues
As deer have lost their inhibitions of humans and densely populated areas, they have taken advantage of an environment that provides sufficient cover, an abundance of food, and freedom from natural and human predators (recreational hunters). Increasing numbers of urban car-deer accidents 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. bovine tuberculosis, Lyme disease) also arise.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of deer management is the issue of how to deal with deer in urban and suburban areas where use of lethal control as a management tool has been unavailable. In most cases, community leaders must work together with stakeholders to gain acceptance of these highly effective, lethal techniques and utilize them in conjunction with a variety of non-lethal techniques to successfully reduce human-deer conflicts in these urban-suburban areas.

Urban/Suburban Deer Management Techniques

A variety of deer management tools, both lethal and non-lethal are available. Lethal tools are more effective than others but may be unacceptable in areas where social or safety concerns are an issue. Applying a combination of several techniques specifically tailored for each situation should prove to be more successful than utilizing a single tool.

Non-Lethal Deer Management Techniques

Non-lethal management techniques are generally well accepted by the public. However, limited effectiveness and high cost may prevent success when used exclusively to resolve human-deer conflicts. Non-lethal techniques are best used to supplement, not replace, deer population management.

Habitat modification- Deer are highly adaptable and will use a variety of landscapes, shunning only those areas that are devoid of cover. Removing woodlots and large patches of vegetation may cause deer to relocate. Suburbanites generally enjoy surroundings that are landscaped or provide mixed vegetative cover; habitat modifications to discourage deer presence are rarely practical or acceptable to area residents.

Ban on deer feeding- Many people enjoy feeding deer in urban/suburban areas to increase viewing opportunities. This may attract deer to unwanted areas, especially during winter months. Feeding deer can also lead to crowding and increased potential for disease transmission. Inappropriate feeding locations can induce deer to cross roads, increasing the potential of vehicle accidents. The feeding of deer is prohibited in Michigan's LP.

Unpalatable landscape plants- While deer feed readily on a variety of plants, some varieties are less palatable than others. Careful plant selection for home and business landscapes, combined with the selective use of repellents may minimize damage due to deer browsing and make areas less attractive to deer (Burroughs and Dudek 2008).

Repellants- Repellants are commonly used to reduce a plant's attractiveness and palatability to browsing deer. Use of repellants is often expensive and effects are temporary. Repellants work best in small orchards, gardens and on ornamental plants when an alterative food source is readily available.

Fencing- Deer proof fencing (10-foot high woven wire) is effective at excluding deer from specific locations to prevent or reduce deer access. Locations where landscape or horticultural damage is an issue are good candidates for fencing as are airports and along roads where deer-vehicle collisions are common.

Hazing and frightening techniques- Hazing or frightening deer can be an effective method for keeping deer out of specific areas, however, deer can quickly become accustomed to these techniques over time unless a variety of methods are used. Pyrotechnics, propane cannons, and visual, audible and ultrasonic devices triggered manually, by timers, or motion-sensing detectors have all been used effectively to frighten deer.

Dogs as a deterrent- Use of dogs, located within invisible fencing systems has been used effectively to deter deer from damaging crops. Success varies with the size of the area and the number and aggressiveness of the dogs. Dogs with restricted movement, such as on a chain, are not effective.

Approaches for minimizing deer- vehicle collisions-Roadside reflectors, wildlife warning whistles, warning signs, vegetation management, reduced speed limits, and efforts to raise public awareness have all been used to try and decrease the incidence of deer- vehicle collisions without much documented success. Construction of barrier fencing or wildlife overpasses or underpasses may be effective for addressing specific problem areas, but can be expensive to construct.

Trap and translocate- Capturing and moving deer from one area to another is often requested by people opposed to lethal techniques. However, it has been demonstrated to be impractical, stressful to the deer handled, and may result in high post-release mortality (Beringer et al 2002). In addition, this technique is very expensive. Michigan will not issue a permit to translocate deer due to disease concerns.

Lethal Deer Management Techniques

Lethal deer population management techniques are not always well accepted by some portions of the public. However, when successfully implemented, they can be safe, relatively inexpensive, and highly effective at reducing deer populations.

Controlled hunting- Controlled hunting is the application of legal, regulated deer hunting methods in combination with more stringent controls or restrictions as dictated by landowners or government officials (DeNicola 2000). Regulated hunting has proven to be an ecologically sound, socially beneficial, and fiscally responsible method of managing rural deer populations. However, hunting has limited application in some urban/suburban areas because of safety considerations, competing land-use priorities, legal constraints, or social values (McAninch 1995, Warren 1997). This method, when used in a safe manner, is often the most cost-effective method for managing urban-suburban deer populations.

Sharpshooting- Lethal harvest of deer by sharpshooting through the employment of highly trained, experienced personnel can be a very effective technique. A variety of techniques can be used in sharpshooting programs to maximize safety, humaneness, discretion, and efficiency. This technique, while effective in reducing deer population, is generally more expensive than controlled hunting.

Trap and euthanasia- This method is seldom used, but is an option in areas where lethal techniques have been approved but hunting or sharpshooting are not possible due to safety concerns. It is an inefficient and expensive method as it is difficult to trap deer.

Experimental Deer Management Techniques

Fertility control agents- There has been a significant amount of research focusing on alternative, non-lethal population control techniques. Specifically, researchers have sought an effective, affordable immunocontraceptive that would be useful in areas where traditional hunting methods are not a safe or socially acceptable option. In spite of efforts to develop an effective immunocontraceptive for free ranging deer, such a program simply does not exist. Advances have been made in the methods through which fertility control can be achieved (Killian et al. 2008), but this technology does not overcome the intensive effort involved with treating a substantial proportion of deer to prevent population growth (Rudolph et al. 2000) and assessing deer movements in and out of the area in which management is being applied (Porter et al. 2004). Unfortunately, the lack of public understanding regarding the availability and practicality of fertility control has caused unnecessary delays in the implementation of effective management programs, because fertility control is perceived as the ideal solution (DeNicola 2000).

No Action

Implementing urban/suburban deer management is a difficult, costly, and time consuming undertaking. Communities may be tempted to ignore human-deer conflicts until the problem has escalated and become severe in nature. The eventual cost for taking no action will likely be much greater than if the problem had been addressed when conflicts first surfaced. Deer populations, as well as frustration levels of residents, may have grown to the point where finding a successful solution becomes very difficult.

Liturature Cited:

Beringer, J., L. P. Hanson, J. A. Demand, J. Sartwell, M. Wallendorf, and R. Mange. 2002. Efficiency of Translocation to Control Urban Deer in Missouri: Cost, Efficiency, and Outcome Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2002, 30(3):767-774.

Burroughs, J. P. and T. A. Dudek. 2008. "Deer-Resistant" Plants for Homeowners. Extension Bulletin E-3042, Michigan State University.

DeNicola, A.J., K.C. VerCauteren, P.D. Curtis, and S.E. Hygnstrom. 2000. Managing White-Tailed Deer in Suburban Environments: A Technical Guide. Northeast Wildlife Damage Cooperative.

Killian, G., D. Wagner, K. Fagerstone, and L. Miller. 2008. Long-term efficacy and reproductive behavior associated with GonaCon use in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Pages 240-243 in R. M. Timm and M. B. Madon, editors. Proceedings of the twenty-third vertebrate pest conference. University of California, Davis, USA.

McAninch J. B., ed. 1995. Urban Deer: A Manageable Resource? 1993 Symposium of the North Central Section. St. Louis, Mo.: The Wildlife Society.

Porter, W. F., H. B. Underwood and J. L Woodard. 2004. Movement behavior, dispersal, and the potential for localized management of deer in a suburban environment. Journal of Wildlife Management. 68:247-256.

Rudolph, B. A., W. F. Porter, and H. B. Underwood. 2000. Evaluating immunocontraception for managing suburban white-tailed deer in Irondequoit, New York. Journal of Wildlife Management 64:463–473.

Warren, R. J., ed., 1997. Deer Overabundance. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25(2). Bethesda, Md.: The Wildlife Society.