Saturday, January 24, 2009

Deer at the Dump

There are ten deer in this photo, which was taken at the Shelton landfill this week by George Magdon. Ten deer per square mile (that's 64 acres for each deer) is the recommended density for healthy forests, healthy deer, and low rates of Lyme Disease. But parts of Fairfield County have densities of up to 60 deer per square mile.

The deer population in Shelton is rising, although it is nowhere near as ridiculous as what towns like Redding and Ridgefield have. In those town the deer have stripped the forests of vegetation, then stripped some rather expensive landscaping from yards before deer fencing could be installed (many homeowners there surround their property with deer fence). Rates of Lyme Disease and deer strikes have skyrocketed in lockstep with the deer population boom, leading to a surprising display of public support of bowhunting on city open space, in some cases very close to official hiking trails.

I moved to Shelton in 1991 and for several years I heard gun fire out my back door every fall. I rarely saw deer, even when hiking. That changed when most of the vacant lands were either subdivided or acquired for city open space, where hunting is prohibited (there is still some poaching). Now it's common to see deer herds calmly browsing a few feet from residents' front doors.

It's just the beginning folks. Although there are still some pockets of hunting in Shelton (notably on farmland in the White Hills), the deer population will continue to rise. Where deer once nibbled on hostas and tulips, they will start devouring entire gardens and shrubs. Lyme Disease rates will increase significantly, and more drivers will hit deer.

I just returned from planning the installation of deer fencing at the new Ecklund Native Species Garden at Shelton Lakes. We received a grant from Iroquois to purchase native species, and we'll need to protect our investment with a deer fence. As the deer population rises, the forest will be stripped, and Ecklund Garden will be an island of biodiversity in the desert our forests will become.
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