How badly are deer overpopulated
in this region?
Deer populations in Pennsylvania have been increasing since the early 1900s. In suburban and urban areas, deer densities have reached 60 to 100 per square mile. Pennsylvania's population of whitetails has grown by 20 percent in the last five years, from 1.2 million to 1.6 million.
Whitetail deer thrive in the woody habitats and agricultural landscapes that define northwestern Pennsylvania. Humans have also destroyed deer predator's natural habitat over time, mainly through hunting and habitat fragmentation. Predators such as cougars and wolves, once found abundantly in northwestern PA, had controlled deer populations but are no longer common in this area. Deer's high reproductive rate coupled with the restriction of hunting in some areas is also contributing to the deer population problem. Additionally, those who try to control deer herd sizes, such as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, do not control all the habitat. Private landowners control most land, and the separation of ownership (the private ownership of land and the public ownership of the wildlife) is another contributing factor.
Deer eat a variety of vegetation, including shoots of tree branches and seedlings, as well as farm crops, leading to the destruction of understory plant life, their own habitat, and the habitat of other organisms. By feeding on tree seedlings, deer destroy the potential for re-growth of the forests in the region. Also, due to their vegetation preferences, deer can alter the composition of tree species found in this region's wooded areas. Deer can also damage crops, significantly reducing income for many farmers. Deer can also do serious damage to gardens and shrubbery.
When deer reach high population densities they may push into urban areas, where they can pose a threat to people because they often carry Lyme disease ticks. Deer also pose as a serious threat to drivers, causing about 34,000 accidents per year in the state of Pennsylvania.
At this point, it appears that hunting is the most efficient and cost-effective way to control deer populations. Contraceptives have been attempted in the past in other areas, but this approach was unsuccessful. There has been mention of reintroducing predators back into the area to control the deer population, but there is concern over economic and safety issues. States such as Colorado, Utah and California have implemented "ranching-for-wildlife" programs and allow landowners to receive revenues to control the size of game population on their land. In return, the state gets a better quality habitat for the game.
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