Over the last several years, there has been a large increase in the deer population in Woodside Plantation as large-scale development continues and natural predators have been eliminated. With such overpopulation, Woodside residents have begun to experience vehicle collisions with deer, extensive landscape and garden damage, unsafe interactions between deer and residents, and general habitat degradation. The specter of the increased probability of Lyme disease also exists.
The causes of the rapidly increasing deer population are well understood. Healthy adult does in developed areas most often produce two fawns a year. In fact, 40% of female deer can actually breed as 6- to 7-month-old fawns. In a protected residential environment, deer can live up to 18 years. Without a deer management program, wildlife biologists state that in a suburban environment, with no predators, the deer herd can double in size every two to three years. This means that in six years, you will have four to eight times the deer herd you currently have. The residents and deer interaction issue noted above will become critical. Left unchecked, this deer population explosion would eventually reach the biological carrying capacity of Woodside Plantation. As deer over utilize available food resources, herd health inevitably declines. Increased parasite loads, declines in body weight and antler production are often followed by large-scale deer die offs. Hilton Head Island developments experienced this situation in the 1990s.
Earlier this year, Woodside residents voted 1,330 to 746 to start a wildlife management program to cull the deer herd. The goal of this program would be to reduce negative deer impacts on residents and insure a healthy deer herd in Woodside. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ wildlife biologists would advise on the number of deer to be culled and SCDNR would also issue the necessary permits.
Wildlife management is not deer eradication.
The proposed method to cull the Woodside deer herd is to use sharpshooters. Sharpshooters are used almost exclusively across the U.S. in wildlife management programs since fertility control and trap and relocate programs have not proven practical or effective. SCDNR does not even allow fertility control or trap and relocate practices in South Carolina.
For some, using sharpshooters conjures up the vision of poorly trained Bubbas tromping through their backyard shooting and wounding anything that moves – with children, pets, homes and cars in the background. Nothing is farther from the truth.
Safety is paramount in sharpshooting operations and the following are the key elements of a sharpshooting safety plan:
1. Only highly qualified and experienced marksmen are hired as sharpshooters.
2. Unarmed sharpshooters would survey Woodside during daylight hours to identify areas where shooting “safe zones” could be established. Since Woodside is composed of several thousand acres that are not fully developed, there is no shortage of candidate “safe zone” locations far removed from occupied dwellings and roads.
3. Shooting positions from elevated stands or from high terrain inside the “safe zones” assure that shots are directed into the ground as a backstop.
4. Shooting of deer would take place at night on selected dates using night vision scopes and sound-suppressed rifles.
5. Deer bait is used to attract the deer into the safe removal locations.
6. Non-lead frangible ammunition, safe for urban environments, is used.
7. Cranial shots are used to provide instant humane kills and avoid wounded animals escaping. The American Veterinary Association has approved culling by cranial rifle shots as a humane form of euthanasia. Meat is processed and donated to charity.
Sharpshooting has been safely used for several decades to control deer numbers across the U.S. and extensive research has revealed no record of any safety incidents during sharpshooting operations. SCDNR data shows no record of safety incidents in numerous sharpshooting operations, especially on Hilton Head Island and other low country locations. The City of Charlottesville had no safety incidents in their sharpshooting program. The National Park Service has safely used sharpshooting as a wildlife management tool in many parks and national monuments, including small sites like Valley Forge. Independent evaluations conducted after these culling operations revealed no safety incidents.
In summary, Woodside must institute a wildlife management program to avoid an exponential growth of the deer herd, which would result in significant ecological, social and economic problems, including the eventual decline of the health of the deer herd. Sharpshooting has been demonstrated to be the safe, practical and effective method of culling the deer herd. In order to institute the Woodside wildlife management program, I strongly encourage City Council to approve the proposed revision to the city’s firearms ordinance to allow professional sharpshooters to cull over populations of deer.
Since the debate of lethal vs. non-lethal control methods involves value judgments, the discussions are often heated. However, the key to remember is that, in most instances, only lethal solutions are practical, economical and ecologically sound.