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Deer need zebra-type attention (Editorial)

by | Nov 15, 2021

At the end of August, news of three zebras escaping an exotic animal farm in a Maryland county near Washington D.C. spread quickly in the local and national media. 
Area residents posted photos and video clips of their zebra sightings and escapades in “hunting” the striped creatures.
A Washington D.C. congresswoman used the story to elevate her stance on making the District the 51st state.
Sadly, one of the zebras died last month after getting caught in an illegal snare trap, and with the other two still at large, the county issued their owner three citations for animal cruelty. Meanwhile, residents’ hysteria continues, including trespassing on other farms and other foolishness to get a glimpse of the animals.
In the citation’s charging documents, two statements from the county leapt out at us. 
First: the “zebras at large pose a threat to the community (as) they continue to wander through communities, railroad, and public roads.”
And second, “The zebras at-large are a public nuisance. The media coverage surrounding the zebras has brought traffic and trespassers to surrounding homes. The animals are dangerous and serve as a risk to persons approaching them and a risk to drivers on public roadways.”
Since the zebras have an owner and were once contained on his property, they are a nuisance, safety risk and public danger now that they are on the loose. 
But in practicality, the relentless pressure from deer throughout the region, including New Jersey, constitute much more of a nuisance to suburban and rural residents. 
“Replace the word ‘zebras’ with ‘deer’ and then tell me why it’s no big deal that the over-populated deer herd eat tens of thousands of dollars of our crops every year,” a farmer living near the zebra fiasco posted on social media recently, frustrated by the ridiculous attention paid to two wandering animals of one species, while thousands of other species wreak havoc unabated. 
Even setting aside crop damage losses — an estimated $15 million thorn in New Jersey farmers’ sides each year — deer damage property and threaten safety across the residential spectrum. Every year in New Jersey, according to AAA data, more than 30,000 car accidents involve deer. And that’s only the accidents involving claims; many more may go unreported.
State Farm, the country’s leading insurer, reports that nationwide car damage as a result of deer-related accidents is in the billions of dollars annually.
While these accidents are a constant hazard throughout the year, they are even more frequent right now during deer mating season, through December.
Deer carry high numbers of ticks, which transmit Lyme disease to humans. 
From 2000-18, East Stroudsburg University’s TickCheck program estimated a total of 642,670 true cases of Lyme disease in New Jersey.
In some respects, New Jersey is safer than its neighbors.
State Farm released a nationwide analysis in October showing that N.J. drivers have a one-in-229 chance of striking a deer. That puts New Jersey 34th in the nation.
The chance in Pennsylvania is one in 70 and in New York it’s one in 116.
The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection estimates the deer population at 100,000, down from 204,000 in 1995.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious problem in the Garden State, one that deserves great attention — the level of attention three escaped zebras have gotten — for long-term viable solutions.
A sustainable and healthy deer density, according to wildlife biologists, is five to 15 individuals per square mile. An infrared deer population survey conducted by environmental services firm Steward Green for the New Jersey Farm Bureau involved eight sites throughout New Jersey. The survey concluded that New Jersey averages 112 deer per square mile. In some counties, the deer population is as high as 270 individuals per square mile.
The current situation is not sustainable. Farm Bureau and other groups have banged the drum loudly for years to bring attention to the issue, and have successes to point to. But more can and should be done.
Short of painting deer with black and white stripes, anything that puts the kind of zebra-crazed attention to seriously addressing the nuisance issues from deer is worth consideration.

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