Deer wars in garden landscapes

Whitetail deer and garden landscapes don’t mix, unless you are thinking about what they like to put in their stomachs.

People take pride in planning, establishing and maintaining beautiful gardens and landscapes, but a well-known fact is the wide variety of plants on your property is quite attractive to whitetail deer.

It is interesting that there are so many competing interests when it comes to this creature. Hunters love to have as many as possible. High populations greatly increase their chances of providing a relatively inexpensive source of meat for the family. Hunting and its associated activities can provide a significant boost to the economy. In 2011, more than $153 million dollars was added to Michigan’s economy from hunting and related activities.

Although deer are beautiful animals to behold, they will chew down vegetable plants, fruits, annuals and perennial flowers and love to browse on young trees and shrubs. They can cause devastation to growing trees by feeding on young, tender shoots and bucks will rub the velvet from their anthers on young tree trunks.

Insurance companies have a vested interest in deer populations that is different from hunters. They would like a smaller herd due to the financial losses associated with deer and car collisions. Insurance companies want to control risks because that is their business. High deer populations increase the risks of collisions. The average repair bill when a person hits a deer is about $2,100, not to mention the costs if a person is injured or killed, so is there any question about why their interests are not the same as the hunters?

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources would like to manage the deer herd so that it remains healthy and provides hunters with enough deer to keep them happy, while groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) may want to see hunting curtailed or eliminated. What’s a person to think with so many competing interests? The discussion thus far doesn’t really address the landowner’s need, which is to decrease damage to their landscape.

To prevent deer from using home landscapes as a buffet line, people have tried many options including repellants containing dried blood meal, rotten eggs, hot pepper preparations, and soap; regular and electric fencing, sonic devices that emit distress and other calls and whatever else promises results. Significant investments of time, money and effort have been and continue to be dedicated to this ongoing conflict.

The only dependable method of keeping them away is to install a strong metal or thick, plastic, netting fence at least 14 feet high. There are some angled designs that don’t need to be that high, but their appearance would be objectionable to some. Repellants are not always dependable because some may wash off easily, they may have a limited time period when they can be applied and their effectiveness may vary due to the scarcity of food or competition between deer in the area.

Sonic devices are another option. They produce sounds that are intended to warn a deer of danger. The idea is interesting, but the costs may be a concern compared to some other options. Sometimes, it may be necessary to try a combination of strategies.

Whatever you decide on, don’t give up. You may lose a few battles, but it is the war that you should strive to win.

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