Science and Risk of improper deer management

When it comes to most diseases in species other then ourselves, we rarely care enough to report on it for more then the initial article. For example, last year when the threat of an ebola outbreak reached the United States; that is all the media would report on. Day or night you could find a news story either on a new case presenting itself, or the current condition of a already infected patient. Even now, after several months there are news stories. Yesterday the ‘Time’ posted an article about a promising new ebola vaccine.

“This far outstrips any historic Ebola outbreak in numbers. The largest outbreak in the past was about 400 cases.” Dr. Bruce Alyward

Photo Courtesy of ‘New York Post’

With this one virus that could possible effect humans, there were countless articles for every form of media. When you look at diseases that effect other species such as deer, there will be a story about the initial findings, then good luck finding something after that. Two weeks ago on March 19, a deer found east of Denver was confirmed to have a rare form of exotic chewing lice (Bovicola Tibialis). The Denver Post, 9NEWS, and did one article each that only consisted of a few paragraphs, because it does not present a threat to humans it won’t appear again unless more animals become infected. In all three articles, the only mention of science is from Dr. Karin Fox, a pathologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (DOW). She goes on to state that farmers should not be worried as it does not effect humans of domestic animals.

Photo Courtesy of Molly Quinn

Another disease that is not scientifically explained to the public is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Currently it has been identified in a third of Colorado, and several other states. Although the seriousness of this disease is not readily apparent, it has affected residence of Colorado. A co-worker of mine shot a buck several years ago that was suspected of having CWD, officers from DOW requested they be allowed to take the deer in order to test if a Mountain Lion could become infected by consuming the meat.

“Forgive me if I’m somewhat nonchalant about this,… I
consider this a media-driven disease.” Dr. Terry Kreeger

Photo Courtesy of State of Colorado

Breaking down the problem with deer management

When a story about deer makes headlines, it is most often covering a proposed change in deer management policy. Media has framed the issue of deer management and the people it effects as a conflict, either too many deer related car accidents or creating new ways to cull deer implementing both lethal and non-lethal strategies. Some times an article portraying deer in a positive spotlight will appear, but most likely will not make headlines. A recent news article out of Cleveland, OH reported that there are 37 deer per square mile in a total of eight suburbs using aerial observations.

Deer in Cleveland suburb

Media often use the increase of white tail deer in Eastern United States as the main cause for the degradation of forests. Deer are portrayed as being an even bigger threat then climate change. Not only are they a threat to the forest, but they also carry diseases such as chronic wasting disease and lyme disease.

Deer with CWD
Image courtesy of ‘Passport to Texas’

“I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.” —Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

Occasionally deer are portrayed as a positive attribute to their environment. Scientists and volunteers are currently sampling random deer in Wyoming during the red desert-to-Hoback migration. Conservationists are hoping to set a new precedent for protecting future wildlife migration routes.

Image courtesy of ‘New York Times’

Another negative way media frames deer is in reduced populations for certain species such as Mule deer of the Western United States. The media focuses on predation, car collisions, harsh winters followed by drought, and development of essential deer habitat as causes for the decreased deer population in certain areas, mainly Colorado. Most articles related to the decrease of mule deer take on a doom and gloom approach when reaching their audience. 

Deer populations in Colorado
Image courtesy of ‘The Denver Post’                                    

Choosing the right stories

Current events that we concentrate on and believe to be the most important is greatly affected by media in the form of agenda setting. Media are experts when it comes to agenda setting. By placing a headline on the front page, they have already told you what the top story is. When the media chooses to cover a story involving deer it will usually only be a short article covering a deer attack, vehicle collision or news regulations concerning deer management. Of these stories that are covered by media, the local media will only cover them. That has changed though with social media, certain groups such as the National Deer Alliance concentrate on making all deer management news available.

Last week there was a story reported out of West Virginia where Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a new deer bill into law. Stories like these will be covered by the media for only a short time. Because this law only effects a select number of people who are directly impacted by this law, the coverage will be confined to a small area.

Courtesy of WV MetroNews,
Courtesy of WV MetroNews

Suburbs stretching into deer habitat

Human and wildlife conflicts associated with growing deer populations have increased significantly in the past two decades, specifically white-tailed deer (Odocoileus Virginianus). Being a larger animal they require more land, food, and resources then other wildlife and as a result are capable of causing more damage when they interact with humans. Some of the potential problems with humans expanding into deer habitat are increased car collisions, attacks on people and pets, property damage, and health concerns such as Lyme disease. In one year, State farm paid 3.8 billion dollars in claims involving deer collisions in the United States.

As deer become too crowded and accustomed to human presence, attacks have become more common. Deer are particularly aggressive two times a year; during the rut or mating season and during fawning season. The following attacks that occurred in late 2005 early 2006 at the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale campus were during fawning season and were later determined to be the work of one aggressive Doe. Thirteen confirmed deer attacks were reported on students, staff, and police with injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones and stitches as reported by The Daily Illini.

Courtesy of Missoulian,
Courtesy of Missoulian

The main way that Cities are trying to control the local deer populations is through urban deer culls. This approach is generally met with opposition from deer friendly humane societies because it only temporarily reduces deer populations and has to be repeated annually. Some cities have had success though, in Jackson City, Michigan the 8th straight year of culling deer began two weeks ago on January 23rd with the hopes of removing upwards of 75 deer by mid February.

Throughout this blog I will analyze the media that is covering reports of deer and human conflict. One of the main advocates for deer that is working with cities to find a more permanent solution is the National Deer Alliance. Mainly through social media, they are able to reach people who otherwise would be unaware this problem.