Dealing with our deer

Oct. 29, 2013 @ 05:56 PM

It may seem an unexpected sight in an urban area, but it’s not an uncommon one in Durham these days – deer loping across lawns and golf courses, sniffing at – and snacking in – backyard gardens or sprinting across a busy street.

Deer are beautiful animals, and they can give a momentary countryside feel to a city environment. There’s a natural tendency to think of them as pleasant if unlikely additions to the neighborhood.

And that is largely true.

But in Durham these days – as in many urban areas – deer may be becoming too much of a good thing.  Partly that’s because as our urban areas sprawl outward, their more rural habitat is decreasing. And deer reproduce fairly quickly, so it is no surprise they are becoming more and more plentiful.

The City Council is on the brink of permitting a move that will, it is hoped, slow and even reverse the proliferation of deer. The council is scheduled to take up an ordinance change Nov. 4 that will allow deer hunting with bow and arrow in the city limits during certain periods.  As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg noted in a story Monday, the item is on the council’s consent agenda, which means it’s expected to pass with no controversy.

The council began studying an ordinance change earlier this year, after several residents had raised the issue and a group called Urban Archery submitted a petition to allow the bow-and-arrow hunts. Durham, the petition said, would join 34 other municipalities in North Carolina, including Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, that allow deer hunting,

At first blush, deer hunting in the city might seem a harsh response to the presence of innocent, friendly creatures.

But as the petition notes, the deer are hardly harmless.
“They will continue to cause increasing damage to cars and waste taxpayer money, causing millions in damage to properties and cars,” it says. “Deer will continue to cause serious injuries and fatalities.”

And nature will impose its own unsparing justice if the population becomes too great – “they will die from starvation, disease and car collisions, injuring both deer and humans,” the petition said.

A city staff memo recommending the ordinance change noted that Durham County probably has about 30 to 44 deer, on average, per square mile.  And while it notes there is no standard for “optimal deer density,” it adds that “deer interference can still have a negative effect in the daily lives of Durham residents.”

At the request of some council members, safety precautions in the original draft of the ordinance were increased. And archery, the staff memo noted, “has the advantage of being a relatively silent and discreet activity” with a “limited shooting range.”

Hunters will need landowner permission, covering at least five acres – although that can be made up of multiple individual tracts.

Putting images of Bambi aside, the ordinance change seems like a prudent and measured approach to an expanding deer population that could become much more than a nuisance.