Q: Why do we need to manage deer?
A: Deer populations have increased beyond sustainable levels in Fairfax County. Increased habitat modification, loss of natural habitat and a loss of natural large predators have led to an overabundant deer population. Conflicts between white-tailed deer and humans have become a concern of many urban and suburban communities including safety risks associated with deer-vehicle collisions, potential for spread of disease, environmental damage to forests resulting in loss of plant and animal biodiversity and damage to private properties.
Q: I love deer and enjoy watching them. Will I still be able to see deer when I’m in Fairfax County parks?
A: Yes.The goal of the Fairfax County Deer Management Program is not to eliminate deer from county parks, but to reduce their population size to a healthier, more sustainable level. White-tailed deer are a part of Fairfax County’s natural heritage and will continue to be present in county parks.
Q: What is the recommended size of the deer population in Fairfax County?
A: A healthy ecosystem can support 15 - 20 deer per square mile without damage to the environment. A sustainable population size will improve the health of the herds, increase the ability for the forests to regenerate, increase habitat and forage for other wildlife species, diminish the risk of deer-vehicle collisions and minimize destruction of property.
Prior to the implementation of the county’s management program, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries estimated deer density levels ranging from 90-419 deer per square mile throughout Fairfax County parks. More recently, the Fairfax County Park Authority has used camera surveys and aerial infrared surveys to estimate deer density in selected county parks. Deer density varies among parks with many sites in Fairfax County currently estimated at a minimum of 40 - 100 deer per square mile.
Q: What role do deer play in the transmission of Lyme disease?
A: Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) is known to transmit the bacterium to humans on the east coast of the United States. Larval and nymphal ticks are infected when they feed on small mammals that carry the bacterium, such as white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus). White-tailed deer are considered the primary maintenance host of the adult black-legged tick and may transport ticks into areas occupied by people and their pets; however, deer are not a competent reservoir host for the Lyme disease agent. While reducing the deer population does diminish host availability, black-legged ticks use a variety of mammalian reservoirs of the disease-causing bacterium. The relationship between deer populations and Lyme disease incidence is unclear and caution is warranted in expecting that deer population reduction will result in a reduction in Lyme disease incidence.
Q: How can we reduce or eliminate transmission of Lyme disease to humans?
A: Some very simple preventative actions can be taken to limit exposure to ticks that may transmit Lyme disease. The Fairfax County Health Department suggests dressing appropriately (wearing long sleeves and tucking your pants into your socks), conducting frequent tick checks, and wearing tick repellant when you are heading outside. Avoiding high tick traffic areas, such as tall grasses in the summer and areas with leaf litter in the fall and winter can prevent tick bites. You can find out more by visiting www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fightthebite or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Will deer population control affect the number of collisions between deer and vehicles?
A: Reduction in numbers of deer through proven management techniques has been shown to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.
Q: Will the fall hunting season cause an increase in deer-vehicle collisions?
A: No. There is an increase in deer-vehicle collisions in the fall due to increased activity associated with the deer breeding season. Deer naturally move more during the fall as mature bucks and does travel to find breeding partners.
Q: What can be done to reduce the number of collisions between deer and vehicles?
A: The number of collisions between deer and vehicles can be reduced through smart driving. Being aware that deer are most active in the morning and evening, are particularly mobile during the breeding season (“the rut”) between October and December, and use regular travel corridors (which are often marked by deer crossing signs) can proactively assist in reducing deer-vehicle collisions. More tips and information can be found here.
Q: Some naturalists have expressed concern about excessive deer browsing in Fairfax County. What are the impacts of white-tailed deer on forested habitats?
A: Deer feed primarily on ‘browse,’ the tender shoots and buds of young trees and plants. Overabundant deer populations negatively impact the ecosystem by denuding the forest and prevent the ability of forests to naturally regenerate. Many areas in Fairfax County show heavy to severe browse levels on forested habitats and have little or no native vegetation growing below six feet. Very few native species survive in these over-browsed areas and invasive species move in to take their place.
Severe damage to the forest understory can have a long-term negative effect on our native plant communities and the wildlife species that depend on them including songbirds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. The loss of native shrubs and trees contributes to a loss of biodiversity and a broad decline in forest-dependent wildlife. As forests become further degraded and food resources are outstripped, deer may also suffer the consequences of malnourishment and starvation over time.
Q: Who determines the hunting season and limits on deer harvested in Fairfax County?
A: The Fairfax County Deer Management Program operates under regulations set by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries including hunting seasons and bag limits. All necessary permits are acquired from VDGIF and all harvest information is reported to the agency on an annual basis.
Q: How is the public notified of deer management activities within Fairfax County?
A: The public is notified about the Deer Management Program activity through various methods including public information meetings, news releases, website content, local community presentations, newsletters and notification letters mailed to residents bordering parks included in the program.
Q: Is there more than one kind of deer hunting and is one better than the other?
A: Yes and it depends on the situation. First, suburban/urban deer management is different from rural deer management. The three common lethal methods of deer management in suburban/urban areas are sharpshooting, managed hunts, and archery hunting.
Sharpshooting is performed by trained shooters with high powered rifles under special permits. The shooters are commonly police snipers or professional deer managers. Bait may be used in these operations. Sharpshooting is not hunting. It is designed to be as efficient as possible and eliminates the concern of fair chase, which is a key ethical concern of hunting. Because of this, it is more effective at reducing populations quickly, but is also more expensive.
Managed hunts are when an area is closed to the public and saturated with hunters over a short period of time, usually one or two days. Firearms, such as shotguns, are commonly used during managed hunts, but some utilize archery tackle as well. These hunts require a large area to safely operate. These are less effective than sharpshooting, but also less costly.
Archery hunting is slightly different because the area is not closed to the public while the hunting takes place. Archery is considered the safest method for use in residential areas and parks. This is the most cost effective management tool and the only one available in areas where the discharge of firearms is prohibited.
Q: Are Fairfax County parks open while archery is being conducted?
A: Yes, the county parks remain open while archery is conducted through the Fairfax County Deer Management Program. Signs are placed at park entrances and along trails reminding the public to stay on the trails while enjoying the park.
Q: Should park visitors at public parks selected for the archery program be concerned about public or personal safety?
A: Archery is one of the safest, most efficient, and sustainable methods for deer population control in Fairfax County. Since Virginia began tracking hunting injuries in 1959, no bystanders have been injured by an archer hunting deer anywhere in the Commonwealth. Annually in Virginia, more than 70,000 archery hunters hunt more than 700,000 collective days. Even with these numbers of participants, archery hunting accidents are extremely rare.
Authorized archery hunting activity in Fairfax County Park Authority and Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority properties is closely monitored by the Fairfax County Police Department with the assistance from the Park Authority. Archery groups are assigned to hunt specific parks. Each group is led by an experienced leader and alternate leader. Every archer assigned to one of the groups must pass a target proficiency test every two years using the same equipment they will use to hunt. Group leaders and archers are bound by standards which are enforceable by group leaders and the Fairfax County Deer Program Manager. Each archer carries a list of specific procedures and rules of conduct to be followed during hunts.
Q: How is bow hunting conducted? What makes it safe?
A: Hunters utilize tree stands which allow the hunter to engage the target from above.The resulting downward trajectory of the arrow means that the ground acts as a natural backstop. Additionally, archery tackle is only effective at short range, which means that the hunter is close to the target, allowing clear views and easy identification of the target. These two factors combined result in the exceptional safety record archery hunting has amassed.
Q: What is the wounding rate for archery hunting?
A: Fairfax County collects detailed data about each hunt as part of the county’s Deer Management Program. Between FY 2014-2019, the Fairfax County Deer Management Program has reported non-recovery/wounding rates of approximately 4-9% using modern archery tackle. This is drastically less than the over 50% wounding rate reported by groups opposed to archery hunting.There are multiple reasons for the discrepancy.The technology of archery equipment has advanced significantly over the last 25 years.Traditional archery equipment of long bows and recurve bows are little more than a stick and string. Reports of inaccurate archery equipment invariably refer to these traditional bows. Modern archery equipment of compound bows and crossbows are far more accurate, powerful, and easier to use. The arrows have also been technically advanced over the years.The efficiently of the cutting edge of the arrow, known as a broadhead, has been greatly improved with the advent of mechanical broadheads. Many often quoted studies of high wounding rates are historical studies using traditional archery tackle (Ditchkoff et al. 1998). These studies do not apply to modern equipment and techniques.The Fairfax County Deer Management Program only allows modern archery equipment to be used, requires all hunters to pass a qualification test on their weapon and restricts authorized shots to stationary deer within close proximity. Additionally, hunters in urban settings understand and appreciate the necessity that only high probability, ethical shots should be taken.
Q: What protocols does Fairfax County have in place to ensure accountability?
A: Bow hunters in Fairfax County’s Deer Management Archery Program are held to high, rigid standards. They must pass a shooting proficiency test, keep a thorough and accurate log of each hunt, uphold respectful behavior of deer, property, landowners, the public, game laws and safety. For more specific standards and information, click here
Q: How long has archery been used as part of the Fairfax County Deer Management Program?
A: Archery was first approved as a deer management tool by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in October 2000. Managed half-day archery hunts were conducted in fiscal year 2002 and 2003 with limited success. A pilot archery program was developed by the Fairfax County Wildlife Biologist in collaboration with Fairfax County Park Authority in fiscal year 2010 at two parks and has expanded annually thereafter with approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Q: Can a hunter come on to my property?
A: A hunter cannot come onto private property without written or verbal permission by the property owner or tenant.
Q: What are the laws regarding impeding an approved hunt?
A: It is unlawful to willfully and intentionally impede the lawful hunting or trapping of wild birds or wild animals. It is unlawful for any person or his agent to knowingly and intentionally facilitate or attempt to cause a violation by putting out bait or salt for any wildlife in any place used or occupied by hunters to hunt wild birds or wild animals. Any person convicted of this type of violation is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. Additionally, a person can be charged with trespassing if they refuse to leave a county park when asked to do so by a law enforcement official.
Q: What happens to the deer that are harvested through Fairfax County sharpshooting operations?
A: Deer harvested during sharpshooting operations are donated to Hunters for the Hungry. This non-profit organization donates venison to local homeless shelters to provide food for the needy. Hunters for the Hungry has processed and distributed over 5.6 million pounds of venison providing a total of 22.2 million servings to those in need since the program began in 1991.
Q: Does hunting cause deer to flee their home range?
A:Deer responses to hunting pressure can be variable and are related to the amount of hunting pressure in a given area as well as other factors including habitat, deer density, sex, age and prior experiences. Deer may alter their daily activity patterns in response to hunting pressure; however, most flight responses are temporary. Deer do not normally leave their home ranges in response to hunting.
Q: Will hunting cause deer populations to rebound by increasing reproductive rates?
A: Removing deer from healthy populations will not increase reproductive rates of the remaining deer. Healthy females typically produce two fawns and will occasionally produce three. Fawn recruitment is typically lower when habitat quality is poor and there are more deer than the habitat can support. If a deer herd is in poor health due to lack of food then it is probable that it will display suppressed reproduction and recruitment of fawns. If the herd is reduced and in balance with high-quality habitat, it is possible for reproduction to be restored to normal rates. However, deer reproduction physiologically cannot increase to supernormal levels to compensate for reduced deer densities.
Q: Will deer move into the hunted area to fill the void left by deer removal?
A: The distribution of deer on the landscape is clumped and not evenly distributed because female deer live in social groups. Female deer are philopatric and generally establish home ranges in their natal area. Research has shown that localized management to reduce deer populations can be effective because female deer will readily not move into the low density area (McNulty et.al 1997).
Q: What about the use of non-lethal methods, such as fertility control, for deer in Fairfax County?
A: Non-lethal fertility control methods for white-tailed deer are not currently approved as management methods in the Commonwealth by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Any use of these methods would require an approved permit by the VDGIF. Research distinguishes between applying fertility control methods to deer in captive studies versus small-scale field experiments versus routine management of free-ranging deer populations. Achieving fertility control in captive deer or in small-scale field experiments does not translate to success of fertility control at the population level in a free-ranging deer herd. Changes in the number and composition of deer populations are dynamic and occur as the result of a multitude of factors, only one of which is reproduction. Any reductions in a particular deer herd's density because of reduced fertility could be offset by increased survival of fawns produced by fertile females in the population or by immigration of deer from areas surrounding the treated area. Recent research with a free-ranging suburban deer herd has shown that fertility control may be applicable only to localized herds with less than 100 females (Rudolph et al. 2000).
Q: Is surgical sterilization of deer 100% effective?
A: Yes and no.Two surgeries have been used to sterilize deer by Cornell University. Tubal ligation was used to sterilize does and had a 96% success rate. Ovariectomy was slightly more invasive, but removed the ovaries completely and was 100% effective at sterilizing that individual deer (Boulanger et al. 2014).
These sterilization methods have been found to be successful at reducing birth rates of individual deer but do not imply that the method is 100% effective at herd reduction. Reduction of a free-ranging deer population using only surgical sterilization has not been reported in the scientific literature.
Q: Is the City of Fairfax is using sterilization to manage their deer?
A: No. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) issued a scientific collection permit to White Buffalo, Inc. in 2014 to test the efficacy of the experimental, non-lethal, surgical sterilization approach to reduce localized deer populations during a five year project. This project was widely touted as the first non-lethal deer management program in Virginia but is instead a scientific research project to examine the usefulness of the method. The expected cost of sterilizing one doe is approximately $1000 and is being paid for by donations. However, there was an additional cost of $436 per deer in police overtime that the city absorbed in 2014. Results are expected in 2019 and may inform future VDGIF decisions about non-lethal management.
Q: What about deer contraceptives?
A: GonaCon and porcine zona pellucida (PZP) have been investigated as non-lethal deer population control methods. GonaCon, approved in 2009 by the EPA, was developed as a single-shot, multi-year agent, trials in Maryland and New Jersey showed that efficacy declined to insufficient levels two years post-treatment (Gionfriddo et al. 2009, 2011). PZP has shown some success in reducing deer populations on islands (e.g., Fire Island National Seashore in New York, Naugle et al. 2002; and Fripp Island, South Carolina, Rutberg et al. 2013) but has been less successful reducing a fenced deer herd at the National Institute of Standard and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD (Rutberg and Naugle 2012).
In July 2017, the EPA approved the registration of the PZP vaccine, Zonastat-D, as a restricted use product for contraception of female white-tailed deer via remote dart delivery. Application includes an initial priming dose followed by a booster at least 2 weeks later and an annual booster dose thereafter to maintain efficacy. PZP has been found to cause female deer to experience multiple estrous cycles, extending the deer breeding season and potentially leading to more deer-vehicle collisions and winter mortality due to over-exertion (Miller et al. 2004). Researchers at Cornell University concluded that multiple estrous cycles were responsible for attracting male deer from outside the research area, offsetting any potential population declines (Boulander et al. 2014). Costs for this method are reported to be approximately $500 per deer.
Although these products have been federally registered by the EPA, state approval of deer management options and use of drugs in vertebrate wildlife is still required. Immunocontraceptives, like PZP and GonaCon, have not been approved by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) for general use in Virginia. An approved permit from the VDGIF would be required for use of these methods.
Q: What deer population control options are available for Fairfax County residents on private property?
A: Population control options are available to residents on private properties in Fairfax County and are regulated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). VDGIF authorizes an early archery season on private lands in Fairfax County. This season is determined by VDGIF and is separate from the Fairfax County Deer Management Program that is operated solely on public lands. The county program does not currently coordinate hunting on private property which also provides refuge and food that sustains deer and contributes to unregulated growth of white-tailed deer populations. According to VDGIF regulations, qualified bowhunters may legally hunt on private property from the first Saturday in September through the last Sunday in April. For more specific information, click here.
Q: What can be done to address property damage caused by deer?
A: A variety of humane options exist for residents to help reduce deer-related property damage by refraining from feeding the deer, planting deer-resistant plants, using deer repellants or building deer exclusion fencing. No single approach is completely effective and results will vary, especially in areas with high density herds. You can find more in-depth deer damage prevention tips here.
Boulanger, J.R., P.C. Curtis, and B. Blossey. 2014. An integrated approach for managing white-tailed deer in suburban environments: The Cornell University study. A publication of Cornell University Cooperative Extension and the Northeast Wildlife Damage Research and Outreach Cooperative.
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protections. 2007. Managing urban deer in Connecticut: a guide for residents and communities. 2nd edition.
Ditchkoff, S.S., E.R. Welch, R.L. Lochmiller, R.E. Masters, W.R. Starry, and W.C. Dinkines. 1998. Wounding rates of white-tailed deer with traditional archery equipment. Proc. Annu. Conf. Southeast. Assoc. Fish and Wildl. Agencies. 52:244-248.
Gionfriddo, J. P., J. D. Eisemann, K. J. Sullivan, R. S. Healey, L. A. Miller, K. A. Fagerstone, R. M. Engeman, AND C. A. Yoder. 2009. Field test of a single-injection gonadotrophin-releasing hormone immunocontraceptive vaccine in female white-tailed deer. Wildlife Research 36:177-184.
Gionfriddo, J. P., A. J. Denicola, AND K. A. Fagerstone. 2011. Efficacy of GnRH immunocontraception of wild white-tailed deer in New Jersey. Wildlife Society Bulletin 35:142-148.
McNulty, S.A., W.F. Porter, N.E. Mathews, and J.A. Hill. 1997. Localized management for reducing white-tailed deer populations. Wild. Soc. Bull. 25(2):265-271.
Miller, L.A., J. Rhyan and G. Killian. 2004. GonaCon, a versatile GnRH contraceptive for a large variety of pest animal problems. Proc. 21st Vertebr. Pest Conf. (R.M. Timm and W.P. Forenzel, Eds) Univ. Calif. Davis. Pp. 269-273.
Naugle, R. E., Rutberg, A. T., Underwood, H. B., Turner, J. W. Jr, and Liu, I. K. M. (2002). Field testing of immunocontraception on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at Fire Island National Seashore, New York, USA. Reproduction Supplement 60:143–153.
Rudolph, B. A., W. F. Porter, and H. B. Underwood. 2000. Evaluating immunocontraception for managing suburban white-tailed deer in Irondequoit, New York. Journal of Wildlife Management 64:463–473.
Rutberg, A. T., and R. Naugle. 2012. Immunocontraception of white-tailed deer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland: 2012 Progress Report. The Humane Society of the United States.
Rutberg, A. T., R. E. Naugle, and F. Verret. 2013. Single-treatment porcine zona pellucida Immunocontraception associated with reduction of a population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 44(4):75–83.
More information on deer management…
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