Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Residents of the Washington region — even those in the urban core — need only look outside their windows to notice the booming deer population. Managing the local herds is a sensitive matter: the animals affect the survival of forests and pose a threat to motorists. We explore what some communities in Maryland are doing to make sure humans, forests and deer coexist successfully.
- Brian Eyler Deer Project Leader, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
- Kevin Sullivan Certified Wildlife Biologist; State Director (MD,DE,DC) of Wildlife Services, USDA
- Bill McShea Wildlife Ecologist, Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It was only a century ago that deer were nearly extinct in Maryland and rarely seen in Virginia. These days in the Washington region, it's not uncommon to find an entire family of deer waiting for you in your front yard, whether you live a block away from the hustle and bustle of a Metro stop on Connecticut Avenue or in a suburb far outside the Beltway.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut for a lot of people who live here, the resurgence of deer is a complicated story with potentially dark consequences. Deer not only threaten the motorists who frequently confront them on roads large and small. They might also be putting the health of some of the regions most treasured forests in danger. As such, efforts are under way to manage the explosive growth of the population, some of which involve contraceptives and fertility control while others involve sharpshooters and managed calls.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore what local authorities are doing in response to the spiking deer population and how the animals affect our ecosystem is Kevin Sullivan. He is a wildlife biologist and the state director of wildlife services in Maryland, Delaware and D.C. for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kevin Sullivan, welcome. Good to see you.
MR. KEVIN SULLIVANThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Brian Eyler. He is the deer project leader at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Brian Eyler, thank you for joining us.
MR. BRIAN EYLERHi. Thanks.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Bill McShea. He is a research ecologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which is a part of the National Zoo. Bill McShea, thank you for joining us.
MR. BILL MCSHEAThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect a number of you would like to join this conversation, so here's the number to call, 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. How is your life affected, if at all, by the surging deer population in our region? 800-433-8850. Kevin, Brian, it almost doesn't matter where you live in this Washington region anymore. Chances are the deer are among your neighbors. It's hard to imagine that just about 100 years ago, deer were a rare sight in this part of the country. How would you explain the boom in the population of deer? OK, first you, Brian.
EYLERWell, you can look at it as a success story or a major problem, I guess. But you're right. Deer were limited to the Western part of the state back at the turn of the century, Garrett and Allegany County. And through conservation efforts, you know, restrictive hunting seasons, and bag limits and restocking efforts, deer were restored. Our predecessors had no idea that, you know, that deer would come back the way they did. And you're right. These urban-suburban counties, you know, in D.C. and Maryland both, you know, we have a lot of deer, no question about it.
NNAMDIHow is the growth of the population related to the expansion of the suburbs and the exurbs in this region? Does that reduce, I guess, the amount of land where deer happen to be in the way of hunters or in the way of predators?
EYLERYeah. You know, it's hard to think of these urban and suburban areas as being good deer habitat but they're actually prime deer habitat. You know, like you said, you've removed the predators, you know, the control that we had in the past. You know, it's very difficult to hunt in these areas. And it's also just really good habitat. Deer or an EDGE species, they like that mix of forest and, you know, and fields and urban and suburban development. And you look at all that landscaping, and it's just prime habitat for deer. And there's no predator, so they do really well.
NNAMDIThey're very adaptable, aren't they Kevin? They adapt to these urban and suburban environment fairly easily, as Brian was pointing out.
SULLIVANThey sure do. They're a real generalists. As you started the conversation, living in your backyard is no problem for them. They've really become acclimated to this environment, the people, not a lot of fear, lack of predators. But they're as comfortable in your backyard as they are in the wilds of western Maryland.
NNAMDIBill McShea, we talked about a year and a half ago about how you manage a few deer-free exclosures around the region. For those of us who say hi to deer on a fairly regular basis when we go outside to get our morning paper, it's hard to imagine our region without a deer. What would you say is the purpose of learning from what our region would look like without deer around?
MCSHEAA lot of times, we have to create the extreme condition in order to see an effect in our lifetime or over a short time. So I don't think no deer is anymore natural than very densities of deer. But we can get an effect quickly and we can say, wow, that's different in there, and that's what's happened. When we removed the deer area, be it 10 by 10 feet or several acres, you can see different understory, different plant communities.
MCSHEAThe leaf litter becomes different. The soil nutrients become different. And if it's big enough, you see different birds, different small mammals and different succession processes. The forest is changing in front of you, and different tree species are growing larger where before they were being eaten by the deer.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding, Bill McShea, that conservation has brought deer here decades ago from places like Arkansas when they were trying to grow the population. Is their presence here anymore natural than what you create in your exclosures?
MCSHEASure. There are native species and a lot of conservation organizations are trying to restore native species to their habitat. So we've done that not only with deer, but a number of mammals and bird species. And bringing deer back is a good thing. And our system is better for having deer here, but we were very selective on what we brought back. You didn't see us bringing back the wolves or the mountain lions with the deer. And as a result, the system need a little tweaking sometimes.
NNAMDIIndeed. I was just about to ask -- and I guess, I can go to you, Kevin and Brian for this -- who are the natural predators of deer? And where do they fit in to the story of this population boom?
SULLIVANWell, the natural predators historically were coyotes, in some of the northeast region, wolves. But one of the main and primary predator now is man through regulated harvest seasons. And when you get into these closed, you know, the D.C. metro area, those areas, the patchwork of urban area aren't as successful hunters.
NNAMDIBrian, how adaptable are they? We talked about their adaptability to suburban and exurban environments, but can they also survive in a wide range of different climates?
EYLERYes, they can. In North America, you know, they are found from the Florida Keys, all the way to, you know, the Canadian provinces and so very adaptable.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Brian, in a few minutes, we are going to explore some of the other ways people around the region are trying to manage the population, but let's put the method that attracts the most controversy and attention right up front, Managed hunts. There are several joint efforts underway around this region involving federal, state, local officials to use sharpshooters to thin herds. One such cull will take place soon in Chevy Chase, Md. How do they typically work?
EYLERWell, may I -- there's a difference between managed hunts and sharpshooting or culls.
EYLERTypically, managed hunts still involve hunting. It's a highly regulated hunting, but it's still used as hunters. Whereas as a sharp shoot or a cull is generally done by professional staff, a lot fewer individual. They're using suppressed rifles maybe at night. It's more, you know, it's very tightly regulated, and it's engineered for these areas where hunting just, you know, really isn't, you know, feasible most densely populated areas.
NNAMDIWhat community input do officials need to receive before starting culls, and what kind of warning and notice do they need to give to those who live in those areas? I assume the goal is to avoid situations where somebody's working in a community garden, in a park, or they run into -- so that they don't run into somebody who's involved in a cull holding a gun.
EYLERWell, I, you know, I'll just put out Montgomery -- currently in Maryland, Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore County and, to a certain degree, Anne Arundel County do some of these sharpshooting-type operations. But I'll defer to Kevin. You know, Kevin is involved in a lot of this. He could probably give you a better idea of what they do go through from a community support stand...
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Kevin Sullivan.
SULLIVANSure. And we started off, as you said, with the most controversial part of this. But it's really the last resort. You know, at the beginning, we try to educate and get a lot of information out there to people about how to live with wildlife. And that a deer or several deer in their community isn't a bad thing. As Bill McShea said, it's very natural in their native species. But to answer your question on the culling, they're very well regulated.
SULLIVANThey started off in these areas with people going through the National Environmental Policy Act, writing environmental documents, having public outreach, public meetings, scoping meetings, and they get a great deal of input and involvement from the public. And then if they do go forward, they're very well regulated so that there is no harm or concern, safety concerns, to the general public.
NNAMDIWhat is you sense for how most communities respond to the idea of a cull? I read that a survey conducted last year in Chevy Chase found residents there overwhelming supported the plan.
SULLIVANThat's what we're seeing more and more these days. As they see the threats of the deer and some of the species that may be out of balance, they see a real need to manage it, and they can do it through the regulated harvest that Brian had talked about, or they can do it through a cull process. They can also use a variety of other techniques, exclusion, hazing and harassing the animals, different plantings, birth control. Our agency developed a birth control.
NNAMDIWe'll talk about that, mm hmm.
SULLIVANWe can talk about that a little later.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Are you comfortable with the idea of managing our local deer population with culls or with managed hunts? Why or why not? Would you be more comfortable with the idea of using contraceptives to manage the deer population? 800-433-8850. We will start with Ginny in Silver Spring, Md. Ginny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GINNYHello. I'd like to know if you can electrocute deer, particularly if in my yard, which we'd love to have a portable little electric thing that they'd die when they ate my tomatoes. But if the deer do wander close to the areas around people when there's managed hunts, maybe you could have some portable little grids or something that they'd brush up against and just quietly die.
NNAMDIWell, I guess what we're talking about -- and invariably, this will come up in this conversation -- is what is more or less humane in terms of culling or reducing deer populations. Electrocution, Kevin Sullivan.
SULLIVANNot an option. Not an approved method. Not something that would be considered humane or ethical. Now, if you want to scale the electricity down and use an electric fence and it doesn't cause harm to the deer, we're all for that. But electrocution isn't an approved method that scientists would consider.
NNAMDIGinny, would you consider...
EYLEROr either hunting or culling, Just to add.
NNAMDIGinny would you consider an electric fence that would not do harm to the deer, just keep them out?
GINNYWell, no. Actually, I figured there's too many of them, and I'd really rather kill them and then eat them.
NNAMDIOh. Thank you very much for your call, Ginny. We move on to, I think, another point of view from Stephanie in Gaithersburg, Md. Stephanie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEPHANIE BOYLES GRIFFINHi, Kevin, Brian. I haven't met Bill yet, but this is Stephanie Boyles Griffin. I'm the senior director of the Wildlife Response, Innovations & Services Department of The Humane Society of the United States.
GRIFFINHow are you all doing?
GRIFFINI'm also commissioner on the Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission. And I'm not speaking on their behalf today. I'm speaking as a representative of the HSUS. But...
NNAMDIStephanie wears many hats. Go ahead, Stephanie.
MS. STEPHANIE BOYLES GRIFFINYes, yes. But, you know, our constituents, the HSUS's constituents in Maryland, constituents that I hear on behalf of as a citizen of Maryland often contact me about non-lethal approaches to resolving conflicts with deer.
GRIFFINAnd, you know, the Human Society of the United States has developed, you know, a contraception drug. As Kevin just said...
NNAMDIWe'll be talking more about that shortly.
GRIFFINYeah, I'm glad. And I guess my question would be posed to both Kevin and Brian. Since Maryland, I'm proud to say, was the first state in the United States to register an immunocontraception drug for deer -- but to my knowledge, it's been registered for a couple of years -- when and how do you think we'll start using that as an approach in urban and suburban communities where calls or controlled hunts are just not a feasible way to resolve conflicts with those animals?
NNAMDICare to respond to that, Brian?
EYLERWell, Stephanie, you know, we've -- our research has shown that there's drugs -- we're going to kind of jump ahead and get into this but, you know, there's drugs...
NNAMDIWell, I got a good idea. Allow me to take a break 'cause I do have to do that in this broadcast.
NNAMDIAnd so when we come back, you won't be rushed in responding to this.
NNAMDIAnd, Stephanie, I'm going to put you on hold so you can continue to listen to the discussion. And when we come back, maybe join it again. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Are you seeing creatures other than deer pop up in your neighborhood that you're not used to seeing? What are they? When did you see them? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the population -- or overpopulation of deer in our region and what we might be able to do about them with Bill McShea. He's a research ecologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which is part of the National Zoo. Brian Eyler is the deer project leader at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Kevin Sullivan is a wildlife biologist and state director of wildlife services in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
NNAMDIPicking up the conversation or taking it back a little bit, Kevin. The National Institute for Standards and Technology has worked in partnership with the Humane Society to develop a contraceptive method for managing deer populations. How does it work and what's the sense -- what's your sense for the potential of contraceptives?
SULLIVANI think it has a lot of potential. There is two different products: the one that the Humane Society is working on there with the NIST, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and then there's another one that USDA developed, and it's approved by the EPA. It's called GonaCon. What these are are kind of natural substances that when injected -- they need to be hand-injected or dart-injected into a deer -- hey keep that deer -- that female deer from reproducing anywhere from one year up to possibly five years.
SULLIVANWhat we see and as EPA and the other state agencies have looked at, we see it more as a tool in a toolbox to be used in smaller areas, smaller controlled areas. Due to the need to reapply it, due to the fact and the percentages of the deer that it works on and the logistics of it, we just don't see it as a tool to be used across a county-wide area or across the landscape.
NNAMDIWell, the last I heard, contraceptives were being evaluated by the EPA. Where does that process stand, and what are the environmental impacts they consider before approving a contraceptive for wildlife like deer?
SULLIVANThe EPA has registered a product called GonaCon, and it is a vaccine registered with the EPA. It has been under development for, oh, immunocontraceptives some 20-odd years or longer. They looked at every environmental aspect, animal health aspect, non-target aspect, and they approved it in, I believe, September of 2009. So it's available for use.
NNAMDIBill McShea, what is your own view on the value of contraceptives in managing the deer population?
MCSHEAI think just as Brian and Kevin said, it'll be a great tool to have in the toolbox, but it will be limited situations where it will work. And for most communities, it just won't be logistically feasible. And the other options would have to be explored first.
GRIFFINYes. You know, one of the challenges with using a cull or a controlled hunt prior to using fertility control, and I think Kevin and Brian will agree, is that once you start killing deer in an area, that makes it very difficult to go back and do fertility control because we're having to dart these animals opportunistically and remotely unless you're capturing them and mobilizing them and then hand-injecting them with the drug. And the animals become weary.
GRIFFINSo it makes it very difficult to get a large enough proportion of the female deer or the does after a cull when it does before. And that's one of the reasons we really encourage communities to try the immunocontraception first and only, as Kevin said, use lethal as a last resort because trying to do it the other way around makes fertility control difficult, if not impossible, 'cause in order for it to be effective on a population level, you have to treat a high proportion of the does. And again...
GRIFFIN...it's becomes difficult when they get scared of human presence especially if they're tame. Yeah, they're relatively tame, and it have never had a cull there before.
NNAMDIYes, Kevin has recorded one scholar saying earlier, deer might not be rocket scientists, but they do understand enough to know that if there is a likelihood of either a cull or managed hunt, if they've seen it before, then they're not likely to hang around that particular area for very long. Thank you very much for your call, Stephanie. We move on now to Tim in Monrovia, Md. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMHi. I just have a couple quick comments to make. It seems to me that all these efforts, you know, in the local regions around here to be somewhat futile when the outlying agricultural areas are just so inundated with deer in the parks and other areas where these measures are being tried or just population sinks for the outlying areas, and it seems like a never-ending battle.
TIMAnd the other thing I'd like to say is that I own significant acreage in the West Virginia on the east face of the Allegheny and it's got very wonderful potential for quality hardwood production. And we find it just about impossible to manage for hardwood reproduction when we do any kind of harvest in those areas. The deer are just go populous that you can't find any kind of reproduction no matter the mast, crop or anything else.
NNAMDIIn other words, what Tim seems to be saying, gentlemen, is not just the suburbs and the exurbs that we're talking about here but, so to speak, out in the woods, so to speak.
EYLERWe have a healthy deer population, you know, throughout the region, beyond Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic. No question about it. Actually, though, you know, from a source sink standpoint, it probably goes both ways. You know, the suburbs in the urban areas actually can be a source of deer. You know, we have some pretty good examples of where, you know, farmers had issues in Maryland, and it's when they're next to an urban area or suburban area because, you know, in these, you know, outskirts, we still have, you know...
EYLER...a lot -- hunters, you know? You know, we have hunters. And so they can regulate deer, you know, outside of these urban suburban areas. But when you get into one of these fringes, these urban suburban areas actually are a source of deer, and they're a problem.
NNAMDITim, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. Bill McShea, Brian, Kevin, it seems the nature of your work pretty much guarantees that you'll be upsetting somebody somewhere along the way. You're responsible for protecting the habitat and the species itself. Starting with you, Bill McShea, how would you describe that challenge?
MCSHEAIt's a challenge, and deer is just a part of that challenge. There's a lot of issues going on out there. In one point, I would like to get across as many people feel if they solve the deer problem, their biodiversity would come back, or their forest would regenerate or some magical situation would be restored. And it's -- there's a lot going on out there. There's invasive plants, species. There's overuse of these parks and soil compaction and pollution from water and air, and those problems are not as obvious as deer. It's easy to start with the deer, and they should be managed. But...
NNAMDIWell, I got to interrupt with this from...
MCSHEA...it's a holistic thing that really has to be worked out from many directions at the same time if you want to get the biodiversity that you're seeking.
NNAMDIAnd the relationship between these things I find fascinating because we're talking about the deer and what they're doing in parks and forests. And one of the things that they are doing are they are eating things that are higher up that usually birds would depend on, and as a result, birds have to work, so to speak, closer to the ground. And in today's New York Times, we've just discovered that that makes them more vulnerable to cats, and cats have now become one of the major predators around the country. Everything, Bill McShea, it seems is connected.
MCSHEAYes. That's what they tell you in grammar school, and what do you know, it's right that as the more we learn about these systems, the more we learn when you pull on one string, it affects the whole web, and deer are a big string right now. They are major architects of this environment. And as we change them, we haven't even discussed Lyme disease and various diseases that are transmitted through deer at one part of their life stage.
MCSHEAAll these things are connected, and it takes managers. And that's why the states and the federal government and the local government have wildlife managers to try to keep these things within certain limits to both increase the biodiversity and to decrease their impacts on -- their negative impacts on humans.
NNAMDIYou mentioned we haven't discussed Lyme disease yet. I think we're about to with James in Bethesda, Md. James, you're turn.
JAMESHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to say that before the cold snap recently, I was out in the woods behind my house dealing with a crew taking -- cutting up a downed tree. And I got -- I turned out to get Lyme disease. A tick behind my -- I hadn't noticed it, and I'm on drugs and all that. I'm sure I'll be fine. But it's really kind of disconcerting to contract a potentially serious disease within 45, 50, 60 feet of your house. It's -- the deer really are out of control.
NNAMDIWe have received a number of emails, James, about whether people should be concerned about whether deer in our region carry diseases with them? Is that a concern that we should have, Kevin Sullivan?
SULLIVANIt is a concern, and you should take the necessary precautions, not -- you know, for a bug spray and clothing and that sort of thing. There's a lot of studies out there about Lyme's disease. They're a little bit inconclusive at this point, but just for your listeners, I would say don't vilify the deer. They're just one part in the life cycle of that tick.
SULLIVANThe mouse is also involved, and there's a lot of research out there that says if you had almost no deer, you could still have Lyme's disease and those ticks and in the woods. So the best thing at this point would be manage the deer herd at a responsible level and really protect yourself with clothing and the appropriate insecticides.
NNAMDIJames, thank you very much for your call. On to Louise in Fairfax, Va. Louise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LOUISEThank you, Kojo. Kevin, you are absolutely 100 percent right. The whole environment is out of balance. I know that if deer, the female deers or any of the deers, the female hormones -- 'cause they're a family. They work together as a family. They live as a family for most of the year. Their hormones -- drive, and then they produce more babies.
LOUISELike in Yellowstone where they introduced the wolves, the whole area is in balance now. So we need to reintroduce the predators that many people in the countryside have killed and perhaps bring in wolves. I don't know. That wouldn't be very popular. But we have to do something to create some land for the deer as well because everything is getting developed, and they're hungry.
NNAMDIBrian Eyler, as Louise pointed out, bringing in predators like wolves probably would be less popular than managed hunts or culling deers. But what do you say?
EYLERCorrect. You know, unfortunately, wolves and the density of people we're dealing with, they just don't mix. Wolves, mountain lions, you know, they're great deer predators but just not a feasible option in the East. Yeah, we have some coyotes, you know, and they are a predator of deer. And as their numbers increase, it will help. But we're going to have to rely on humans as the predator for the foreseeable future.
NNAMDILouise, thank you very much for your call. There are a lot of people who'd like to weigh in on this issue, so I'm trying to get through the calls as quickly as possible. Here is Jay in Frederick, Md. Jay, your turn.
JAYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to weigh in that -- as the speaker just said that the most effective measure of controlling the deer is predatory, and man is just about the only one left at this point. The problem I had when I moved to Maryland in 1990 -- it's over 20 years ago -- is access to land to hunt the deer. It's very difficult to get access to land.
JAYThere are programs I know in other states like Pennsylvania that have programs to encourage land owners to open up their land for hunting, particularly for crop growers. If they want to take part on crop manage programs, they have to open up their land to hunting. And I think now let's just take a look at that because I -- people I talk with that are hunters in this area, that's the number one problem they have is access to land to do the hunting.
NNAMDIBrian Eyler, do you know if Maryland is taking a look at that?
EYLERWe have actually tried a program like that in the past, probably about 12 years including now, and, you know, we had a lot of hunter buy-in. Unfortunately, we didn't have the landowner end of with a buy-in. You know, farmers, like everybody else, are concerned about lawsuits and potential issues with allowing people onto their land that they don't know.
EYLERAnd there's been several states around us that have also tried those kinds of programs in recent years. Ohio and Virginia come to mind. And they generally find the same results. But the caller is absolutely right. Hunter access to land is one of the biggest obstacles the deer management has to watch.
NNAMDIJay, thank you very much for your call. Bill McShea, there are a lot of things you hear every day about the deer around here. One of them is they're not afraid of humans anymore. They used to scatter when I go outside to put out my trash, but now they just chill. They just hang out. What behavioral differences have you noticed in our local dear population, if any, or are people just projecting t heir own feelings onto what they see?
MCSHEANo, I think that there -- as the proportion of the population that is hunting deer is going down over time, deer don't have experience with any danger from people. And as a result, they are relatively smart. They're not rocket scientists, but they can figure out that I can stand in this backyard. They don't have a dog they're going to let out of that door and after me. And they can come relatively close to people and relatively close to roads. There are so many deer right now that are living...
NNAMDII was about to say, what do you know...
MCSHEA...right along the edge of roads. And they make a mistake about one out of 20 times. But for a lot of the days, they're just hanging out there. And the cars are going on by, and they're relatively immune to it now.
NNAMDII was about to ask, what do we know about how deer understand traffic or what happens on roads? What do they understand about when to cross certain places safely?
MCSHEAI don't know. I think they work by a few basic rules, and most of the time, those rules work for them. But as we all know, in a panic situation, they don't always make the right decision. And that's one of the difficulty is, when they're being pushed into a road or something is causing them to run across the road.
MCSHEAI would say that deer cannot run and think at the same time, and a lot of those mistakes happen on the deer's part. Those mistakes, when they're -- during the mating season, particularly when the males and the females are being chased around by each other and also when there's dogs involved, those are two situations.
NNAMDIHere's Peggy in Potomac, Md. Peggy, your turn.
PEGGYGood afternoon, gents. I live in a suburban neighborhood here in Montgomery County across from the C & O Canal Park where the deer have multiplied over the years, completely destroyed the understory. We were lucky enough to get enough homeowners in my little -- on my street to give written permission to a bow-and-arrow hunter to come in and legally hunt this year.
PEGGYAnd he has been able to take our herd of about 20 deer down by nine. He's been quiet, discreet, very effective. We have had no problems with deer being wounded and then running around. He -- my question is how can other suburban neighborhoods get a list or get in contact with good bow-and-arrow hunters so that this can be done in suburban neighborhoods? First question.
EYLERIt's really good to hear that, and I'm glad that's working for you, and I would encourage you. There's a Maryland Bowhunters Society in Maryland, and there's a couple other sportsmen's organizations. And -- or you can just contact your local DNR office, and I'm sure they can put you into contact with other -- you know, with these groups that have hunters that are -- you know, a lot of these groups have certification programs, you know, where they certify the hunters that are in it for that reason. So...
NNAMDIPeggy, you had another question?
PEGGYYes, I did, because our hunter gifted one of the deer to us. And we ate it, and it was absolutely delicious. And he said he cannot legally sell what he takes. He can donate it to soup kitchens for the hungry. He can give it away. Is there some medical or health reason why wild deer cannot be sold commercially?
NNAMDIThat you know of, Brian?
EYLERYeah. It's federal law, and those laws go back to times when wildlife was -- you know, conservation measures were being taken to protect the exploit from the exploitation of wildlife. And deer, you know, fall under that category, which is why, you know, you can't sell venison. If you create that market, it potentially could cause abuse. And there's actually some movement, though, looking at some of that as, you know, maybe that's the way it should go to create some kind of market.
NNAMDIPeggy, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take another short break. When we come back, if you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls as quickly as possible. The number is 800-433-8850. How is your life affected, if at all, by the surging deer population in our region? You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about deer in this region. We're talking with Bill McShea. He's a research ecologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. That's part of the National Zoo. Brian Eyler is the deer project leader at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
NNAMDIAnd Kevin Sullivan is a wildlife biologist and the state director of wildlife services in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We've been taking calls at 800-433-8850. Brian, where does the traditional hunting season fit into your deer management approach, and what should people know about how that season went this year?
EYLERWell, we talked about tools earlier. People were mentioning tools in the toolbox, and our regular -- regulated hunting season is the hammer or the flat-bladed screwdriver. It's the go-to tool in the toolbox. You know, we harvest between 90- and 100,000 deer every year through our regular hunting season that runs from Sept. 15 to Jan. 31. And, you know, of those 90- to 100,000, 50,000, over 50,000 of those deer are female deer.
EYLERSo we're essentially stopping them from reproducing, you know, next year and the year after and so on. So as far as this year goes, you know, we had four record years proceeding this year. And this year, we dropped -- we're going to be down probably about 10 percent. We're still in the normal range of about 90,000.
NNAMDIWhere do the state's deer hunters typically come from? Are most of the hunters here from Maryland, or are there a lot of people who come to Maryland for the hunt?
EYLERIt's both. The majority are Maryland residents, but we do have a lot of hunters from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the surrounding states.
NNAMDIHas the state of Maryland adjusted its rules or -- for traditional, or has it adjusted traditional hunting calendars in recent decades to account for the booming deer population?
EYLERDefinitely. Yeah. We promote the harvest of female deer. In most of the state, a hunter can harvest over 30 female deer a year if they choose to do so. And, you know, the season runs five months, from September to January. All of this has been done in an effort to bring numbers down and control deer population.
NNAMDIOn to Diane in Fairfax, Va. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEGood afternoon, gentlemen. I'm one of those -- I live in one of those neighborhoods that you've already described that's partly developed with landscaped yards and shrubs and lawn and then pockets of evergreens and woods. And so we have a very healthy herd of deer in a beautiful, huge block. My question is why go after the larger number of does? Why not sterilize the bucks so that they cut the reproduction line at that point? That's...
DIANEThat's my question.
MCSHEAYes. Several people have thought of that before. And -- but when you look at the ecology and the behavior of the deer and you look at the genetics of the deer, these -- there -- it may appear like one male is doing all the breeding, and if we could get rid of that one male, none of these does would get pregnant.
MCSHEABut in reality, you would have to contracept most or all of those males before you would get a lack of reproduction in the females. So every female you contracept is one less baby that's put on the ground. For the males, you have to go through a lot of effort before you see any reduction in pregnancy of those females.
DIANEYou're not making much progress by going after the does even though they're the larger number. I would think if you can concentrate them, not -- I don't know. Are bucks involved when the hunting season is open, or can you not shoot a buck?
NNAMDIOh, you can shoot a buck, yes.
DIANEYou can shoot a buck.
EYLERYou can shoot both.
DIANEOK. So it just seems to me that you're aiming at 500 does, and there might be 25 bucks there. So why not go after the bucks?
NNAMDIYour turn, Brian Eyler.
EYLERWell, actually, it definitely seems that way. But if you look at ratios, there's actually about two does per every one buck. And as Bill alluded to, you can try to remove all of the bucks, but they're pretty persistent. And there will always be a buck there to take that other buck's place. So...
NNAMDIAnd the does reproduce about twice a year, it's my understanding.
EYLERJust once a year.
NNAMDIOnce a year? OK.
EYLEROnce a year. They'll average two fawns, normally. But, no, concentrating on the female part of the population is the most effective way to control the population.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Diane. We move on to John in Manassas, Va. John, thank you for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYes. Thank you for this show, Kojo. So my question is, is global warming having an impact? And I remember, say, 30 years ago, every -- maybe four or five winters, we'd have an extreme weather. I've seen the temperature in Manassas back 30 years ago as low as 10 below zero with big snowfalls that would stay on the ground for weeks at a time.
JOHNAnd over the last 30 years, progressively the winters have been getting milder and milder and milder. And we're not seeing those extreme events. And we're not seeing any winter deer kill events. And I'm wondering, have you guys thought that this might be one of the factors?
NNAMDIActually, we tossed this question around a little earlier, John. And we came to the conclusion that neither of -- none of us in this room knew of any such relationship, but we didn't include Bill McShea in that conversation. Bill.
MCSHEAThe stock answer is always that global change -- climate change affects everything.
MCSHEAAnd it -- it's probably, you know, deer populations were -- are not back in the winter. And the more severe the winter, the more they are not back. And the lack of these severe winters is probably allowing us to maintain a higher base level of deer. Is that is -- are those warmer weather directly related to climate change? Probably, that's what the data is saying. So in that way, I think there is a relationship between the two. Can we do anything about that at a management level? Probably not.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much...
EYLERIt's probably something for other people to deal with.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you for your call. We move on to Ed in Chevy Chase, Md. Ed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDThanks, Kojo, for taking my call. I guess quick comments and then a question. We are relatively new residents to the Chevy Chase area about four years ago. And I'm originally from Pennsylvania, so I kind of grew up with hunting and everything. But I've been pretty amazed that, you know, with LISTSERVs and all, how many comments we get when somebody sees a fox in the neighborhood.
EDThe next thing you know, you know, they want to call in the armed guard. It's just -- it's almost a little humorous at times. But in terms of what is planned for Chevy Chase in terms of the deer cull, can you tell me a little bit more about that? Because, frankly, this is the first I've heard of it.
EYLERYou know, Montgomery County has county management people that, you know, that are devoted to deer management, and I'm going to direct you to them. They have, you know, they are the experts on that situation, and they will be able to answer all your questions concerning Montgomery.
NNAMDISpecifically, who should he call in Montgomery County? What division?
EYLERRob Gibbs would be the point of contact or Bill Hamilton.
NNAMDIEd, were you thinking that you might be desirous of participating?
EDNo. I seem to be the defender of -- you know, when fox, you know, when people are concerned about fox, you know, my response is, you know, leave them alone for God's sakes. You know, we chose to live close to Rock Creek Park and a certain amount of wildlife. I mean, the deer have certainly made salad out of our hosta plants.
EDBut I'm not out there, you know, with my bow and arrow, you know, running after them. I don't think the problem is as great as some people -- that I'll refer to as maybe city slickers -- seem to think when we lose plants and all that. But obviously there's a concern so...
NNAMDIAnd there's clearly an effect on the biodiversity of the region. Here now is Robert in Charlestown, W.Va. Hi, Robert.
ROBERTHi. Good afternoon.
ROBERTI was calling to ask a specific question about the impact of the wasting disease that -- like Virginia is experiencing. I know that the transport of carcasses and deer meat across state lines or out of these controlled areas can also impact deer population. So what's Maryland's response to the wasting disease?
NNAMDIWasting disease, Maryland's response, Brian Eyler.
EYLERWe actually found our first case of chronic wasting disease in 2011 in Alleghany County. And our positive and the positives in Virginia that you're referencing are all part of what originated in West Virginia. And all of the states -- and Pennsylvania is now in that mix, too, with a separate issue, CWD or chronic wasting disease issue.
EYLERBut, long story short, that is a standard response to limit carcass removal to try to keep that disease from spreading. The fear is if hunters stop hunting in those areas, potentially deer numbers will, you know, increase. We are watching that closely in Alleghany County. We haven't seen any issue from that yet but it's still early.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Robert. We got an email from Megan, who said, "I remember seeing lots of deer on Foxhall Road across from the GW Mount Vernon campus. That was almost 10 years ago. I think they were pretty established since a few were albino. Can deer get rabies? What other diseases impact them? I've heard that elk in the U.S. have mad cow in some areas. What about deer?" Can you speak to that, Kevin Sullivan?
SULLIVANSure. Deer can get rabies. It's not very common, but as a mammal, it can contract rabies. Seeing a deer out during the day or seeing deer in your backyard or, as our previous caller mentioned, the fox near backyard doesn't all make them immediately rabid. It doesn't make them a bad thing to see. There's chronic wasting disease. There is bluetongue or hemorrhagic disease. There's just the whole variety of disease. Very few of them are zoonotic diseases that are transferred over to humans, but they can carry several diseases.
NNAMDIOn to Evan in Reston, Va. Evan, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
EVANHi. Thanks for taking my call. I am an urban archery hunter in Fairfax County. And I also have a full-time job and two kids, which makes my time to hunt fairly limited. And it turns out that, you know, we're not allowed to hunt on Sundays, which makes the -- make -- really cut into my ability to take as many deer as I potentially could.
NNAMDIIs there any -- is there likely to be any policy change that you know of that may affect Kevin's ability to hunt on Sundays as far as you know, Brian?
EYLERWell, I can't speak for Virginia.
NNAMDIIt is in Virginia, of course.
EYLERYou're right. I can't speak for Virginia. I can tell you that as a whole in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, there is recognition that Sunday hunting is a good thing. And in Maryland, we actually have up to seven Sundays now that you can deer hunt and turkey hunt. And the issue most states have with this or most department of natural resources have is it's not a regulatory decision, it's legislative. So it has to go through the law process to be changed. And that can be time consuming and a little cumbersome. But it is on the radar, I think, in just about every state in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
NNAMDIEvan, thank you for your call. Tommy in Upper Marlboro, Md. Tommy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMMYHi. This question is more for Kevin Sullivan. I knew the current fertility control requires hand injections, which makes the cost of it not feasible for most management programs. How far away are we from an oral delivery system for drugs like GonaCons that can help control the deer population?
SULLIVANWe're currently working on that. Our scientists out of the National Wildlife Research Center out of Fort Collins, Colo., work on that on a daily basis. I think we're years away from an oral contraceptive, but research is being done on Pneu-Dart delivery systems and remote dart delivery systems that might make applying this contraceptive a whole lot easier and a little bit more effective.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Tommy. We got an email from Carl in Shepherd Park, who says, "I play golf at Rock Creek Golf Course up in Northwest. I used to think the deer were a pleasant part of the landscape until one of them messed with my backswing the other weekend. Reminded me of the time you interviewed the author Carl Hiaasen a few years ago, and he told you a story about playing golf on a course where monkeys would show up and run around in front of you. That would scare me more."
NNAMDIAs far as we know, Carl, there are no monkeys planning to mess with your golf game in Rock Creek Park as of this broadcast. Bill McShea is a research ecologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, part of the National Zoo. Kevin Sullivan is a wildlife biologist and the state director of Wildlife Services in Maryland, Delaware and D.C. for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Brian Eyler is the deer project leader at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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