What should communities do when deer habitat disappears and the animals spill out into yards, parks and streets?
In the area where I grew up (Essex County, New Jersey), the community recently responded with deer hunts. The alternative — giving the deer contraception — was rejected due to cost. I was horrified.
Not so long ago, the white-tailed deer was almost killed off in the U.S. by overhunting and habitat destruction. If not for conservation efforts taken in response (by hunters, among others), there might be no deer today. Instead we have an abundance of these splendid animals, which should bring joy, but for many doesn’t because they eat our plants and forest understory, cause car accidents and carry ticks.
It’s true – the deer don’t obey our rules. They’re wild. That’s what I appreciate most about them.
Measures to limit the damage that deer can cause are necessary, of course, but the measures needn’t include killing the animals. It doesn’t make sense when we just went to such lengths to save them.
If we can’t find a way to live with deer in our midst, how will we ever accommodate the fiercer animals making a comeback today – from bear in northern New Jersey to wolves in the Rockies? Indeed, the small population of wolves so recently taken off the Endangered Species List in Montana and Idaho are now being hunted down. Read my “Wild Things” column on This Green Life for more on this subject and take a moment to speak out for the wolves.
Here is a poem written in response to the Essex County deer hunts by my brother, Ted Eisenberg. He and his wife, Karen, protested the hunt at Hilltop Reservation near where they live.
This was Hill Top; last spot of unclaimed land
for miles. There was a path where we walked
our dogs and watched deer quiet in the morning.
Occasionally, a rakish fox looked us down; our
dogs stone still, leashes tight. Sometimes a shape
would stir, and we would point, but not know.
Other times, I would turn to her and ask, what is
that scent, and we would exhaust the names of
what we knew.
At first, deer found their way, along streets named
after Roosevelt and other presidents, to sodded lawns
where they munched Asian shrubs. There was a vote
by grown-ups, after Christmas, after wire reindeer
disappeared, to hunt them down. Our Mayor was
emphatic. As were Sunday hunters in red vests, lining
the perimeter of remaining acres, rifles at the ready.
Some argued for bows and arrows. For malcontents,
our Mayor had an answer, We’ll eat the meat.
The grazing knoll is high with venison. Locals will
draw lots to claim their share of kill; and all agree
our Mayor deserves first cut. This road is on that
path; people no longer sense the hill.