I AM AT WAR WITH THE DEER. Over the years I have killed two of them – but, understand, they were trying to kill me first. Back when it was my car against unarmed deer, my car won. So, the deer upped the stakes, resorting to biological warfare. (This is not a joke, they really did.)
Deer are dangerous. It is not just shrubs and flowers that they harm; they maim and kill humans daily. Really. For the public's safety, not just pleasant greenery, the Governor's Club, and Duke Forest, should continue to cull the growing herds which roam their lands -- as should Chapel Hill and about every other community in North Carolina.
Here's why. Nationally, collisions between deer and vehicles cause more than 150 fatalities each year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2009 State Farm insurance estimated that an average of 100,000 collisions between deer and vehicles occur in the U.S. each month One of these encounters, which cost on average $3000, occurs every 26 seconds, at a cost of over $3.6 billion every year. Crashes reported to police involving deer in 2008 in North Carolina numbered almost 20,000, nearly 10 percent of all vehicle accidents. And many more such wrecks go unreported to police, including some leading to fatalities.
Further, this problem is worsening. Over a five-year span, deer-related crashes increased 27 percent, while total crashes decreased by seven percent, according to UNC's Highway Safety Research Center. In urban areas it’s even worse. Mecklenburg County has had a 92 percent increase in deer-related crashes since 2002.
Then there is deer-borne disease. It is no coincidence that the first detailed description of Lyme disease appeared in 1764 after a visit to the Island of Jura (Deer Island) off the west coast of Scotland.
Lyme disease is one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the United States. Cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control in 2008 numbered over 35,000. Many more are unreported or even undiagnosed. Delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to serious symptoms, which can be disabling and difficult to treat. Late treatment occurs commonly since many people do not recognize the common disease indicators (flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle soreness, fever, malaise and bull’s-eye-patterned rash) as Lyme disease.
The deer-borne Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious even life-threatening disease with over 1000 cases reported in the U.S. each year, and North Carolina having one of the highest rates. Despite the availability of effective treatment, an estimated 30 to 50 Americans die each year from Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Thankfully deer-tick-borne diseases can be dramatically reduced simply by culling the deer population that the ticks depend upon for reproduction. Currently there are an estimated 21 deer per square mile for the entire state of North Carolina. For some local areas, the numbers are much higher. Researchers estimate there are as many as 80 deer per square mile in parts of Duke Forest, making my backyard a dangerous place.
By lowering the deer population to 8 to 10 per square mile, the tick numbers can be brought down to levels too low to spread tick-borne diseases. In one study, when the deer population was reduced by 74%, ticks decreased by 92%. Furthermore, as deer density decreased, and ticks decreased, so did the risk of Lyme disease. When deer were reduced from about 77 to about 10 deer per square mile, after two years of controlled hunting, the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease was reduced by more than 90%.
An estimated 10,000 white-tailed deer inhabited North Carolina in 1900; there are now 1,100,000. While for the state as a whole the deer population has been slightly decreasing of late, deer populations are rapidly increasing in many urban and suburban areas where hunting as a management tool has been hindered. Hunting is the most effective way to cull the deer population, according to Jon Shaw, a North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologist.
Bowing hunting, properly done, is safe and effective, even in urban neighborhoods. If bows and arrows don't work, I recommend Uzis and AK-47s.
Gary D. Gaddy has tested positive for Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, both likely contracted in his backyard.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday March 5, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy