Friday, September 28, 2007

WISCONSIN NEWS: DNR Says "Too Many Deer" at Hixon Forest

Ron Lichtie doesn’t need to conduct a head count to know the deer population around Hixon Forest is well above what the area can support. The high browsing lines, shrinking plant diversity, and high number of deer versus car collisions are clear signs, said the wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

Unchecked, the overabundance of deer will only worsen, he said, putting people, the ecosystem and deer themselves at risk.

Lichtie has presented that assessment, along with data from a 2007 aerial survey of the forest, to the La Crosse Board of Parks Commissioners.

“I truly believe that we have maybe a decade to get the deer population under control before we will be suffering ecological damage that may not be repaired,” he said in an interview Thursday.

The board now will form a committee to consider control methods, lethal and non-lethal.

“It will be very controversial,” said commission member Dorothy Lenard said. “We realize that.”

Wisconsin has an estimated 1.6 million to 1.8 million deer, of which about 500,000 are taken through hunting each year.

It’s not a new problem, or a unique one, said Lichtie. But he’s been called a “bloodthirsty killer” when he’s raised the issue of control in the past.

“I didn’t get into this profession because I hate deer,” he said. “Some people just don’t want to look at the science that’s out there.”

Hixon Forest should have 10 deer per square mile that winter there, Lichtie said. But an estimated 84 to 118 deer per square mile can be found in one section of the forest, according to the report.

Sooner rather than later, the community has to determine what level is acceptable, he said.

Birth control is not permitted in the state because it carries the risk of unintentionally passing the drug on to other wildlife, he said.

Wisconsin also prohibits relocating deer to avoid potentially introducing health problems, such as chronic wasting disease, into other areas.

Lethal control measures could include regular season hunting, special hunts, sharpshooters and trapping and euthanizing the deer.

In 2006, La Crosse County authorized a managed hunt with disabled hunters on Goose Island.

“Everyone’s just afraid to go that direction,” Lenard said. “Nobody wants to kill animals, but they’re actually destroying Hixon Forest, and we don’t want to lose that, either.”

A 2004 ecological inventory of the 800-acre forest found some of the most common plant species absent from some areas.

Forest experts estimated up to 60 plant species already may have been lost to deer browsing, Lichtie said.

Without intervention, the forest will continue to degenerate and biodiversity will suffer, he said, adding it can take decades for the forest to naturally regenerate.

The deer can become susceptible to starvation or disease and the population could collapse altogether, Lichtie said. “We have a responsibility to do something about that,” he said.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

CONNECTICUT NEWS: Lyme Disease Panel Recommends Deer Reduction

Hoping to curtail the spread of Lyme disease, the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials — spurred on by Redding’s first selectman — is urging the governor to set policies to reduce the state’s deer population.

First Selectman Natalie Ketcham, a former council chairman, drafted a letter to Gov. M Jodi Rell asking her to bring together the Department of Public Health (DPH) with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to come up with a plan to address the deer overpopulation problem. Deer ticks, which commonly carry Lyme disease, are spread by the deer that wander through the state’s woodlands.

Citing the aggressive tactics taken to control the mosquito population to stop the spread of West Nile virus, Ms. Ketcham said the state should take similarly strong steps to combat Lyme disease.

“While I think there have been maybe five confirmed cases of West Nile in the past two years, recent reports have Lyme disease affecting more than 60,000 residents annually in Connecticut. So I thought that perhaps we should request that the governor bring her state agencies together to draft a plan to attack and, hopefully, eliminate Lyme disease from the state,” said Ms. Ketcham.

The disease has severe short-term and long-term consequences for those who contract it. Lyme disease can cause flu-like symptoms including fatigue, headache, fever and achy muscles and joints, according to the state Department of Public Health’s Web site. Untreated, it can cause arthritis, neurologic problems and heart problems.

Lyme disease, along with ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, which are similar tick-borne infections, are the dominant reportable diseases found in the town every year, said Doug Hartline, Redding’s health director.

In 2006, Redding sent 51 ticks to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station for testing. Of those, 22 were tested and eight were positive for Lyme — a rate of 36.4%, according to state entomologist Dr. Kirby Stafford, who was interviewed by The Pilot earlier this year.

Statewide 4,855 deer ticks were sent in for testing last year. Of those, some 2,314 were tested and 520 carried Lyme disease.

“That’s a rate of about 22%,” said Dr. Stafford.

The town health department has been disseminating literature to educate homeowners about strategies they can use to groom their properties in a manner that is less enticing to deer.

“Residents should keep their lawns cut low and take away any of the leaf litter. Creating a wood chip perimeter around your yard area also helps to lessen the quantity of ticks on your property,” said Mr. Hartline.

Deer aren’t the only carriers of ticks, however. Mice and chipmunks that thrive in stone walls and wood piles are also known to spread ticks. To keep their numbers down, Mr. Hartline suggests eliminating bird feeders and keeping wood piles away from the house.

Still, deer are the major tick carriers and the towns in the state that have successfully controlled the herds have also quelled the spread of the disease.

Deer management alliance

The Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance, a consortium of 15 Fairfield County towns, is working to promote regional deer management. The group encourages towns to participate and become informed about the problems of excess deer and the methods commonly used to reduce deer population.

“We’re trying to inform people about the communities that have successfully reduced their deer population and have consequently successfully stopped Lyme disease,” said Georgina Scholl, Redding’s representative on the alliance.

Mumford Cove and Groton Long Point, communities located along the Connecticut coast, are examples of towns that have eliminated the Lyme disease problem through controlled hunts. Their methods are documented in the state DEP’s deer management brochure.

The alliance’s main goal is educate the public about the benefits of controlling the deer herd. The Housatonic Valley Council says that a “lack of factual information in the public realm is handicapping” the effort.

The state DEP has been unable to make any “real inroads” in keeping down the deer numbers, “due to the lack of public understanding of the need to reduce the deer herd significantly,” the Housatonic Valley council says in the letter to the governor.

“Public attitudes to our hunters are still focused on sport and they have yet to see hunters as our partners in the battle against Lyme disease and woodland destruction,” it continues.

The dilemma, the council members agree, is that neither the DPH nor the DEP regards the deer herd and the Lyme disease problem as under their jurisdiction.

“The Department of Public Health recognizes that this is a public health threat, but feels that because it’s caused by a tick that is borne by deer, it more an issue for the DEP. And the DEP has taken the position that it’s really a public health threat and therefore in the province of Department of Public Health,” said Ms. Ketcham. “With this letter, we’re asking the governor to bring the two commissions together to formulate a plan.”

The letter was unanimously approved by the council last Friday and is set to be sent to the governor this week once the needed signatures are collected.

Ms. Ketcham has also sent the letter to the council’s counterpart, the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency in lower Fairfield County.

Residents interested in obtaining more information about deer control may pick up the DEP’s deer management brochure, which is available at the health department, town hall, and the Mark Twain Library.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Ed. note: It seems likely that climate change will continue to push EHD north, and these types of outbreaks should become increasingly common in the next 10-15 years.

Deer continue to fall victim to an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in some parts of the state, and even the animals that are not killed are likely to suffer permanent damage if infected by the virus.

The state Division of Fish and Wildlife yesterday released an update on the EHD breakout first publicized two weeks ago, about two weeks after biologists began studying reports of sick and dying deer.

The first outbreak, investigated Sept. 7, involved 15 dead deer discovered by hunters in Hillsborough Township. Yesterday, Fish and Wildlife reported eight more dead deer were found during a Sept. 12 search along Royce Brook, described as being the main drainage area for the 500-acre tract where the first group was found.

Seven days later, scientists confirmed the deer died from EHD, a nasty illness that causes high fevers and hemorrhages in the mouths, noses and eyes and can kill a deer in less than 10 days. The virus is spread by small, biting flies called midges. It does not affect humans, but hunters should not consider eating meat from any deer that appears unhealthy.

Fish and Wildlife said the Sept. 19 diagnosis showed the deer died from the serotype 2 EHD virus. "This is the first time serotype 2 EHD has been found in New Jersey," it said.

All prior New Jersey outbreaks of EHD -- in 1955 in the Passaic River drainage area, in 1975 in the Paulinskill and Pequest River drainage areas and in 1999 in the Salem and Rancocas River drainages -- were caused by the serotype 1 EHD virus.

"Serotype 2 is commonly isolated from deer in Southern Florida, Texas and Mexico," said the division. It said deer from those areas seem to have developed a resistance to type 2 which is actually a bit less virulent than type 1.

The Sept. 12 discovery was not the last. Five days later, hunters found 12 dead deer along Cumberland County's Manantico River. Biologists investigating the scene found two additional deer carcasses and heard reports of six others in Pittsgrove Township.

On Sunday, canoeists reported seeing about 15 dead deer on the Mullica River in Wharton State Park near Hammonton and Shamong. "The carcasses were reportedly found by smell," noted Fish and Wildlife, which said the animals are now being tested for EHD.

Biologists believe the midges that are causing EHD are hatching from drying mud flats, a situation exacerbated by the current spell of hot and dry weather. New Jersey's deer are not alone in dealing with the disease this year as outbreaks are being reported in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, New York and elsewhere.

It will take a good frost to kill the insects that are spreading the virus. Meanwhile, anybody coming across sick or dead deer should call Fish and Wildlife's Office of Fish and Wildlife Health and Forensics at (908) 735-6398.