Hunting Isn’t the Answer to Animal ‘Pests’

State wildlife agencies might want to first try ending their policies of increasing the deer population for no reason other than to kill them

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Wildlife conflicts are a real problem in some communities, but hunting is not the solution. Whether the problem is deer eating tulips or colliding with cars, Lyme disease, or bears getting into garbage, there is always an effective, nonlethal way to handle it.

(MORE: America’s Pest Problem: It’s Time to Cull the Herd)

The first step is for state wildlife agencies to stop increasing the population of certain species, especially deer. These agencies are currently funded fully or partially by the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and their mission statements include hunting, both explicitly and under the guise of “recreation,” “use” or “benefit” of the citizens. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wrote in the insert to its 2006–07 Fish and Wildlife Annual Report, “Your purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and stamps enable us to raise hunting and fishing opportunities to a new level … We rank first in the country for the highest single-year deer harvest on record and are number one for deer harvest over the past decade.” The agencies bolster the deer population through tactics like clear-cutting sections of forests to create the edge habitat that deer prefer, and leasing land to farmers while requiring the farmers to plant extra crops to feed the deer. State agencies, along with private landowners, also plant deer-preferred vegetation to try to maximize hunting opportunities. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources boasted in a June 9, 2004, press release, “Few other states have kept pace with Kentucky in trophy-deer production. Kentucky wildlife managers have earned the right to be proud of that fact.”

Decades of managed hunts in the U.S. have failed to solve human-deer conflicts, including costly ones like crop and landscaping damage. Besides, rural and suburban neighborhoods with corn or tulips will attract deer no matter how many there are. Landowners can fence their property, use repellants or choose plants that do not attract deer. A 2008 study of deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) by the Jack H. Berryman Institute examined a variety of possible solutions, including reducing the deer population, and found that “multiple studies have shown properly installed and maintained fences combined with wildlife crossings to be the most effective method of reducing DVCs.”

To take another example, Lyme disease is transmitted by the black-footed tick, which sometimes feeds on deer. Efforts to reduce Lyme disease with deer hunting are ineffective because the ticks feed on a wide variety of host species – mice, squirrels, raccoons, etc. The only places where hunting is effective are in isolated areas — islands and peninsulas — where the ticks have few alternate hosts. To reduce the incidence of Lyme disease in humans on the mainland, the number of ticks needs to be reduced, not the number of deer. A 2011 study published in Public Health Reports found that a tick-killing device led to a reduction in the incidence of Lyme disease in humans in the area, while deer hunting “did not show a clear decreasing trend.”

As for bears, hunting is also not a solution to conflict, as garbage will attract black bears no matter how small the bear population. Professor Ed Tavss of Rutgers University found that nonlethal management — bear-resistant garbage cans and dumpsters — reduces human-bear conflicts, while hunting does not. And, obviously, intentional feeding of bears must also stop so that bears do not learn to associate people with food.

Hunting is a failed experiment, and it’s time to employ effective, nonlethal methods. The obvious place to start: stop increasing the population of deer for no reason other than to kill them.

Doris Lin is an animal-rights attorney and the director of legal affairs for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey. The views expressed are solely her own. 

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