About whitetail deer
Historically, deer populations in North America were controlled by natural predators, including cougars, wolves, and Native Americans. These predators are no longer present in most areas of the eastern United States. Today, deer populations are mostly controlled through regulated hunting.
Without predation—natural or human—deer have the capacity to rapidly increase to a point where biological parameters of their population may become compromised. This is most typically demonstrated by reduced physical condition and subsequent declines in reproduction, recruitment, and survival.
The whitetail deer population
Annual surveys of Dewees Island’s whitetail deer population showed an increase from 40 deer in 1994, to 117 deer in 1997. The SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) recommends a carrying capacity of 30—35 deer in order to support the island’s vegetative diversity. In 1997, these estimates led to a proposal to implement a deer management program. The proposal was accepted by the property owners association, and has proven to be a success.
The safe, selective management of deer on Dewees Island benefits the health of its deer herd and contributes to a healthy, balanced ecosystem. Dewees Island has historically harvested fewer deer than recommended by SCDNR, and every effort is made to harvest the weak and unhealthy deer. Data from spotlight surveys, track counts, and trail camera surveys will be analyzed to determine if culling is recommended for the 2014 season.
Environmental impact of the deer population
Research shows that whitetail deer populations dramatically affect native vegetation and can reduce or eliminate certain plant species. The impact of deer can also reduce the forest’s ability to recover from hurricanes and fire because of a lack of seedling replacement trees.
Loss of wildlife from deer
Whitetail deer overpopulation can result in the loss of wildlife species which depend on native plants, or the cover they afford. Painted buntings, ground doves, glass lizards, frogs, otter, mink, and butterflies are just a few of the species dependent on forest undergrowth for food and shelter.
Lyme disease and whitetail deer
Whitetail deer are carriers of Lyme Disease, particularly when populations are high. Starvation is a concern when deer are forced, due to overpopulation, to browse vegetation they normally do not eat. These non-typical foods act as filler and result in malnourished deer.