White-tailed deer are probably the best-known herbivores in the United States. Yet their survival in our human-dominated world is increasingly difficult. Human self-interest and attendant practices have positioned deer as Enemy Number One — though an honest look at the misperception of overabundance would dispel the deeply rooted animosity toward these creatures.
But perhaps the greatest wrong is our indifference toward them. Sometimes, we’re just not thinking of animals when we plan our structures.
That might mean we need to change in small but significant ways. Each and every one of us is in a position of responsibility.
For instance, a recent letter to the editor of The Chestnut Hill Local of Philadelphia described the deadly effects of a spiked fence. The letter described the impaling of several fawns and does, and a death in November 2011 when one deer could not jump a spiked iron fence bordering the writer’s property. The neighboring fence-owners gallantly tried to save as many deer as possible, but the whole event was tragic. Unsafe fencing has caused similar harm to the deer at our local arboretum and other homeowners’ properties.
Iron or wooden spiked fences on properties lead to injured, maimed or dead deer when they can’t jump over the fencing. Local residents might consider whether they need a fence on their property. If you absolutely do, look for one that is high enough so that deer will not try to jump over it at all. Another solution is to buy a fence that does not have spikes or wires on top, or places where deer can wedge themselves between posts. Other solutions include attaching a rubber garden hose over the top of the spikes or putting a hole in small, rubber balls that can be attached to the top of the spikes.
Fencing companies have options available that are safer for animals. Try asking them for help with this issue. In this process perhaps you can also educate them about safe fences for deer and other animals.
Especially in the winter, deer need to find any food available and that means trying different areas: another trail or field or yard. Deer can get disoriented and confused by huge structures that block their movements, and are often unable to manage jumping over gates or barriers safely. We who live near parks or wooded areas have a civic and ethical responsibility to protect the precious wildlife that frequents our properties.
Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia targets deer deliberately too. An annual winter killing of deer began in the Wissahickon Park in 1999, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department. The killing of the deer and the need for deer to have food has made winters especially hard on deer—where we live, and perhaps where you live too.
Respected ecologists, biologists and veterinarians, among others, have sought to cultivate a deeper social understanding of deer. Learning about deer would undoubtedly raise the threshold of public acceptance for what they are, and garner an acceptance of their presence in our lives. Their lives, like ours, have inherent value that demands respect.
Deer live in extended family groups. Their societies are well ordered. Each deer plays an important role in an intricate family dynamic and social structure which should be protected and preserved according to nature’s design.
And it is time someone said, ”Deer are unoffending animals in need of a break.”
Mary Ann Baron and Bridget Irons co-founded Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer in the Spring of 2010.