“You have to protect yourself, your family, and native ecosystems from the most dangerous and destructive wild animal in North America, an animal responsible for maiming and killing hundreds of humans each year, an animal that wipes out whole forests along with most of their fauna.
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Monitoring Deer Impacts on Natural Vegetation in Ann Arbor:
A Pilot Study of Red Oak Seedlings as Experimental Indicators of Deer Browse Intensity
Across 10 city parks
November 2015 – October 2016
Jacqueline Courteau, Ph.D.
Consulting Biologist/Ecologist, NatureWrite LLC
October 17, 2016
This pilot experimental study, in which red oak seedlings were planted and monitored in 10 city parks (and in a separate study at the Arboretum), found that deer are browsing 20–90% of tree seedlings, a level that exceeds the 15% recommended in existing scientific literature as allowing for sustainable tree regeneration (Blossey 2014). Overall, deer alone were responsible for 76% of the browse-damaged seedlings, with an additional 11% browsed by both deer and small mammals.
A total of 9% of seedlings were browsed by small mammals only; including seedlings also browsed by deer, 20% of seedlings showed evidence ofsmall mammal browse.
Deer biology, the impact of too many deer, and deer management options are the topics topics of this February 2017 report. Links to data collected by the City of Ann Arbor and research from major institutions and scientists provide documentation.
Ann Arbor has too many deer as shown by 1) scientific studies of our natural areas, 2) a city survey of citizen experiences, 3) the increase in the number of deer-vehicle collisions, 4) the observations of a professional deer biologist and 5) annual aerial surveys. These metrics and the report from the deer management contractor will be used to inform future decisions about the deer management program.
The City began a 4-year deer management program in 2016 with a cull of 63 deer using professional sharpshooters. In 2017, the city added a second method– the surgical sterilization of 54 does in two neighborhood areas — in addition to the culling of 96 deer in natural areas in the city.
The Ann Arbor deer management program is based on science. Here’s a summary of deer biology, the impact of too many deer, and deer management options.
- Deer populations grow rapidly.
- Deer evolved as a prey species, so they reproduce rapidly. Deer populations double every 2 years. In year 1, a doe bears one fawn. In years 2-15, she has two or three fawns each year. In a U of M study in Washtenaw County, 4 does and 2 bucks increased to 222 deer in 7 years.
- In Ann Arbor, there are no natural predators (hunters, wolves, cougars, bears); only cars limit the population growth.
- Rapid population growth means that delays in response increase the problem and increase the cost to resolve it.
- Removing deer from healthy populations like Ann Arbor’s does not increase reproductive rates.
- Deer are “the” major herbivore of forest ecosystems.
- Deer are browsers; they eat leaves, buds, and green stems as high as they can reach (unlike cows and other grazers that eat grass). They prefer native plants and many garden plants. Deer eat 5-10 pounds of greens daily.
- At high population density, they have disproportionately large impacts on biodiversity and forest dynamics.
- Deer can prevent forest regeneration (stopping the next generation of trees and shrubs), endanger native plants, and facilitate the establishment of invasive species.
- Their impact cascades through the food web, impacting small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and amphibians, as well as stream quality.
- In Ann Arbor, two studies have shown significant deer damage to 10 city parks, the U of M Arboretum. Due to the damage to U of M property,t U of M has joined the City’s effort.
- Deer thrive in suburban landscapes like Ann Arbor’s because of the ideal habitat with ample food and no hunting or wild predators.
- Deer flourish on edges since edges provide more food than fields or mature woods. Ann Arbor’s yards create much more edge habitat than naturally occurs, helping to provide the 5-10 pounds of food that a deer eats daily.
- In Ann Arbor, aerial surveys show that deer density varies across the city, with most in wards 1 and 2. Deer are present and increasing in all wards.
- Deer social groups affect deer impact and management methods.
- Females live in social groups and stay and raise offspring in a natal home range learned from their mother. Suburban female deer have home ranges less than 1/2 mile squared, about 100-200 acres.
- Deer have no way to know whether another area is available and have no urge to leave – they are faithful to their natal home range. Removing deer in one area does not cause other deer to move in; they do not “act as gas molecules,” spreading to fill empty space.
- Deer-vehicle collisions (DVC’s)
- Collisions increase as the number of deer increase.
- Collisions decrease when deer are removed.
- DVC’s are an indicator of the deer population.
- In Ann Arbor, from 2004-2015, DVC’s nearly tripled from 31 to 90, while all crashes went up only 6%.
- Lyme disease
- Deer are hosts for blacklegged ticks. These ticks can carry Lyme and other diseases that can cause severe headaches, arthritis, heart palpitations, inflammation of the brain, memory loss, and more. Lyme diseases is very difficult to diagnose and treat.
- Recent work on the role of deer in Lyme disease shows a correlation between deer densities, the abundance of blacklegged ticks that carry the disease, and cases of Lyme disease. Once established, Lyme disease can only be reduced if deer densities are brought very low.
- Lyme is not yet endemic in Ann Arbor, but there are cases in Washtenaw County.
- Options for dealing with over-abundant deer
- Scientists have studied deer management extensively and concluded that, in areas where sharpshooting is legal and safe, culling is the most effective and cost-efficient method.
- Where there are access issues, scientists recommend surgical sterilization of does. Other contraceptives have problems with effectiveness, require multiple applications, and negatively affect buck behavior. All non-lethal methods of population control take time to be effective – the population is not reduced immediately.
- Methods that don’t control deer populations do not have long-lasting effects. Deer quickly become accustomed to smells, noise, water, and other deterrents. Fences must be at least 8 feet high to be effective and only shift the deer to other areas. “Deer-resistant” plants aren’t resistant when deer are hungry enough.
- Moving deer is not legal because of high mortality and danger of spreading disease.
SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION
- The City’s deer management website, which includes, along with other information:
- Information about the 2016 and 2017 deer management programs, including the City Council resolutions, the lethal and sterilization programs, and measures of success.
- Summaries of meetings between City staff and citizen groups.
- Documents relating to the deer management contractor, the permit application, and response from the MDNR.
- Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance (WC4EB) educational website:
- Information on deer biology, overabundance, and management, especially in urban areas.
- Links to scientific reports, news, magazine articles, interviews, and more, along with a link to sign up for updates.
- “An Integrated Approach for Managing White-Tailed Deer in Suburban Environments: the Cornell University Study” by Jason R. Boulanger, et. al. , 2014.
- “Help for Communities Grappling with Abundant Deer Populations” from Cornell University.
Prepared by Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, February 2017
THE EFFECTS OF HIGH DEER DENSITY ON FOREST REGENERATION AND CARBON SEQUESTRATION
Environmental Research Journal, 2013
The effects of trampling and browsing pressure at high densities can negatively affect seedling recruitment, which is a critical component of forest regeneration and community structure. If the frequency of seedling disturbances is too high, forest regeneration and succession will be negatively affected. This may, in turn, introduce broader impacts beyond forest ecosystems, concerning stand biomass and the rate of carbon sequestration. As forests constitute major sinks for atmospheric CO2, the sizes of terrestrial carbon pools are of particular interest to ecologists, managers, and policy makers in relation to quantifying the amount of carbon sequestration rate.
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) browse damage in Ann Arbor, Michigan;
Bird Hills Nature Area, Winter 2015
Jacqueline Courteau, Ecologist, Moriah Young, University of Michigan, Independent Study Research This survey of 142 tree saplings (less than 2 meters tall) and shrubs in Bird Hills Nature Area shows that 80% have been browsed by deer, and 51% have half or more branches browsed. This level of browsing could interfere with forest regeneration and diminish the flowers and fruit available for birds, butterflies, and bees. Further monitoring would be necessary to track mortality, to reveal whether particular tree and shrub species of concern are browsed in future years, and to assess whether wildflower species are also being heavily browsed.
The deer browse figures compiled in this survey may underestimate actual browse damage in several ways. First, the survey excluded plants that were already dead or lacked live buds for identification. Many of the excluded plants showed clear signs of deer browse, which suggests that browse damage could be contributing to mortality, but estimating browse-related mortality was beyond the scope of this study. Numerous other studies suggest that browse damage over several decades may already have eliminated or greatly reduced populations of deer-preferred species (Côté et al. 2004, Rooney and Waller 2003, Ferker et al. 2014). Second, it is not possible to count how many buds are missing from a plant, so we focused on the number of branches browsed. However, some unbrowsed branches were counted even if they were quite small, while the portions of branches browsed off may have been larger than those that remained. Third, we assessed browse damage on all species, rather than on a set of species known to be preferred by deer; damage on preferred species could be even higher.
Sustainable Management of White-Tailed Deer and White-Cedar
Laura S. Kenefic, Jean-Claude Ruel and Jean-Pierre Tremblay
The Wildlife Society, Oct 5, 2015
Using recent and historical regeneration data from the Forest Service’s permanent sample plots, Larouche and her colleagues compared the dynamics of white-cedar to those of companion species over a 40-year period and found that white-cedar seedlings have not progressed to larger-size classes over time, while seedlings of other species have grown into sapling and merchantable-size classes (Larouche et al. 2010). Furthermore, density of white-cedar has declined in the study area since the 1960s, with close to 90 percent of sampled white-cedar seedlings and large saplings having evidence of deer browsing in 2005.
Deer impacts on vegetation and communities in the Leonard Preserve, Manchester, MI
Jacqueline Courteau, Ph.D., Sept 2015
Presence of deer is correlated with significant reductions in plant species composition, abundance and flowering, with the potential to reduce populations of spring and fall wildflowers in both forests and grasslands, and to reduce oak recolonization in old fields. 13 out of 15 indicator species in forest and grassland plots were both more abundant and more likely to flower/fruit in areas protected from deer. Although species composition and abundance data alone do not demonstrate that deer has caused the declines, the combination of data on indicator species (including clear signs of deer browse damage) strengthens the case. Effects ripple to communities and tropic levels beyond plant populations, however, because the affected species provide key resources for a range of insect, small mammal, and bird species.
Effects of climate change, deer and invasive species on forests
Lee E. Frelich, Director, The University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology, 2013
Global warming is about the effects of droughts, storms, fires, bugs, worms and deer on the forest.
Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal–plant interactions
Thomas E. Martin & John L. Maron
Nature Climate Change, Jan 10, 2012
Effects of climate on plant communities may provide an alternative, but particularly powerful, influence on animal populations because plants provide their habitats. Here, we show that abundances of deciduous trees and associated songbirds have declined with decreasing snowfall over 22 years of study in montane Arizona, USA. We experimentally tested the hypothesis that declining snowfall indirectly influences plants and associated birds by allowing greater over-winter herbivory by elk (Cervus canadensis). We excluded elk from one of two paired snowmelt drainages (10 ha per drainage), and replicated this paired experiment across three distant canyons. Over six years, we reversed multi-decade declines in plant and bird populations by experimentally inhibiting heavy winter herbivory associated with declining snowfall. Moreover, predation rates on songbird nests decreased in exclosures, despite higher abundances of nest predators, demonstrating the over-riding importance of habitat quality to avian recruitment.
Legacy of top-down herbivore pressure ricochets back up multiple trophic levels in forest canopies over 30 years, Ecosphere, Jan 2011Removal of top-down control on herbivores can result in a trophic cascade where herbivore pressure on plants results in changes in plant communities. These altered plant communities are hypothesized to exert bottom-up control on subsequent herbivory via changes in plant quality or productivity. But it remains untested whether top-down perturbation causes long term changes in plants that ricochet back up the new food chain that depends on them. In a large-scale, 30-yr controlled field experiment, we show that 10 yr of top-down control of an ungulate herbivore (white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus) created contrasting forest tree communities exerting bottom-up effects that ricochet back up 3 trophic levels 20–30 yr later. Higher ungulate densities during stand initiation caused significant reductions in tree species diversity, canopy foliage density, canopy insect density, and bird density in young (ca. 30 yr old) forests. Because recruitment of trees from seedlings to the canopy occurs over a relatively brief period (ca. 10 yr), with membership in the canopy lasting an order of magnitude longer, our results show that even short-term perturbations in ungulate density may cause centuries-long disruptions to forest ecosystem structure and function. In documenting this five-step trophic ricochet, we unite key concepts of trophic theory with the extensive literature on effects of ungulate overabundance. As predators decline and ungulate herbivores increase worldwide, similar impacts may result that persist long after herbivore density becomes effectively managed.