I’m writing the blog post that I couldn’t find using data to back up my statements. I’m going to break down why white-tailed deer are a problem in Pennsylvania, and why residents (and hunters) should not feed them.
Deer Hunters of Pennsylvania: I may be your biggest fan. Because deer are one of the biggest problems in the commonwealth, nothing makes me happier than our hunting season. However, I don’t want you to get caught baiting them which is illegal in Pennsylvania (except for some special circumstances). See this PA Government News Post on the issue: http://www.media.pa.gov/Pages/Game-Commission-Details.aspx?newsid=59. So, make sure you follow the hunting regulations of Pennsylvania, wear your orange, and be careful not to shoot anything (or anyone) other than the deer you are permitted for.
Other residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Deer do not need your help. In case you didn’t already know, deer carry ticks that carry lyme disease (and although the instance of the disease is increasing, it cannot yet be fully connected to deer populations alone) and are one of the top causes of car accidents in Pennsylvania. It’s no secret that deer are overpopulated in Pennsylvania, most likely due to their top predator, cougars and wolves, being extirpated from Pennsylvania. However, coyotes are responsible for fawn mortality and will chase down adults from time to time. Additionally, feeding them corn in the middle of the winter messes up their metabolism and can kill them.
Deer overbrowsing has caused habitats and ecosystems to change drastically, and there’s no easy way to combat it, other than to have less deer. When deer change the ecosystems by eating their way through it, they change the habitat availability for other species, but especially birds who already face other environmental pressures. Deer almost died out once, thanks to humans overhunting them, but we stopped for a time – the deer bounced back and now there are 30 deer per square mile in Pennsylvania (roughly 1.5 million..just in PA as of 2001). Deer in PA also now face other pressures such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) which can wipe out populations of deer if not kept in check and monitored.
I’ll step off of my soapbox to say that while all wildlife deserves a chance to live and thrive, all wildlife also deserve to do so in a balanced ecosystem. So, next time you see feed corn in the wildlife aisle at the store, keep walking.
And one last thing: here’s a nifty little pamphlet from the PA Game Commission on why not to feed deer: http://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/White-tailedDeer/Documents/feeding_deer.pdf