Deer bringing diverse challenges and opportunities to Virginia
FANCY GAP, Va. — Virginia’s deer population is affecting life across the state in different ways, vegetable producers gathered here Jan. 15 learned.
Jim Parkhurst, Virginia Tech Extension wildlife specialist, outlined the challenges and opportunities these animals bring to agriculture, urban areas, tourism and the environment at the recent Carroll Vegetable Growers meeting.
Deer have an impact on farmers, competing with them for the pasture and crops, the Carroll County group knew.
Parkhurst said that the deer’s impacts go much further across the state, damaging landscaping and home lawns and gardens; causing automobile accidents; endangering the forests of the future; offering many hunting opportunities; and attracting tourists who want to see and photograph them.
While Parkhurst had been asked to talk about wildlife in general as it affects the vegetable growers, he chose to talk about deer.
He reported that about 95 percent of the questions he gets from across the state are focused on deer.
“Clearly there are a lot of deer,” he told the group.
At the turn of the century, the deer herd was small, he continued. Efforts were made to place deer in other parts of the state.
“Deer are fantastic at adaptation,” he declared. “There were high numbers by the late 90s.”
Efforts then began to reduce the herd’s size.
Parkhurst said he views it as multiple herds as the density of deer varies from location to location.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, enforcers of game laws and manages of state wildlife, are tasked with this effort.
The agency began liberalizing hunting regulations, Parkhurst said.
“Deer numbers are going down,” he continued, “but we still have a lot of deer.”
Parkhurst offered both positive and negative aspects on the deer situation.
On the plus side, millions are spent on hunting and the licenses need to do so, 500 million was spent on deer hunting.
Another economic force driven by the deer presence in Virginia is the number of people out looking at wildlife for pleasure.
Parkhurst indicated large mammals, especially deer, elk and bear are major attractions to viewers and photographers. These people spend their money where the animal live, resulting in millions annually to boost the state economy.
On the negative side, he reported, millions in damages to agriculture crops are attributed to deer.
The insurance industry pays millions in damages in deer vs automobile accidents. This includes vehicles and personal injuries.
The long range environmental impact from Virginia deer is a major concern for those concerned with the environment.
Their forest diet preference threatens to change the face of the state’s forests because they like acorns and oak seedlings.
High density browsing by deer means the future of the oak forests is lunch for today’s deer.
They contribute to the tick and Lyme disease spread and are troubled by chronic wasting disease, he said. So far, this deer disease is confined to five counties in the state, he said.
Parkhurst addressed the management and enforcement of regulations as well. DGIF is working on these to find new and better ways.
The agency’s work is funded through the state’s hunting licenses.
Since most of the license revenue is from deer licenses, the decline in the herd and in the number of hunters results in less money for DGIF.
As concerns about deer and interest in them changes, demands on DGIF is shifting, the specialist indicated.
The agency is faced with satisfying competing interests and desires related to deer, he explained.
One approach is allowing the harvest of more antlerless deer.
Over the last 12-15 years this has been successful, he reported, noting about 40 percent of the harvest has been antlerless.
Since the size of the deer herds vary so much across the whole state, the agency is working county by county to increase, decrease or stabilize the local herds as circumstances demand, he said.
Parkhurst and the group discussed some ways to limit the deer and the damage they do to crops.
DGIF is exploring ways to deal with the deer and offers a variety of programs.
“It’s going to take some very significant thinking,” Parkhurst said of battling the deer.
He urged the vegetable farmers to study the situation, to be sure they know what they are dealing with and to weight the cost carefully before taking action.
He discussed various ways of using fencing, but said the larger the area to be fenced, the less likely it will work long-term.
The saga of white tail deer seems to be a continuing one for animals known for their resilience.
Those needing information in doing battle with them can reach out to their Extension agent or DGIF for guidance.
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