Many Hoosiers consider deer to be majestic creatures in nature, but some conservationists are voicing concerns about the dangers of overpopulation. At the turn of the 20th century, there were actually no deer in Indiana – but by the 1980s, expansion efforts were successful and deer sightings today are common. Southern Indiana program director for the Nature Conservancy, Allen Pursell, says the issue now is that feeding all those deer is affecting the ecosystem, and their browsing can be destructive.
“They are a natural part of the ecosystem and they belong out in our forests, and it was a great thing to see them return. But like a lot of things, having too much is a bad thing, and we’re getting to the place where there are so many deer now that they exceed the carrying capacity of out forests,” Pursell said.
Pursell points out that the overpopulation is also impacting suburbia, where the interaction between deer and people becomes much closer and personal, and can affect public safety.
“One estimate is that in Indiana there were about 30,000 of there deer-car accidents every year, and each one of those accidents will cost, to repair, somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000. And that’s big money,” Pursell said.
With the loss of wolves and mountain lions in the region, the deer lack natural predators, which Pursell says leaves it up to humans to control the population. And while there are more humane options, he says the hard reality is that hunting is the most effective.
“Many people have looked for other solutions, birth control and other means of doing things, but either they’re not biologically effective or they’re not economically effective. And so, hunting is really to be at this point time the key to managing the deer population,” said Pursell.
Pursell says people have very strong feelings on the subject – they either want more game animals to hunt, or consider it cruel to kill deer. He adds in many areas of the country, deer have changed the composition and structure of forests by overgrazing them. There is no easy answer, but Pursell says all sides in the deer population debate will have to compromise to find the best solution.