Hello again from Sarah Graves, thinking today about innocent woodland creatures. Who belong, you should excuse my saying so, in the woods. Or if they eat up, befoul, and generally infest Eastport for very much longer, on my plate.
I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m as sorry about Bambi’s mother as anyone. I can’t even watch that movie. Or a lot of others: heck, when the little lion’s royal dad died, I was a wreck for a week. But —
But we are being swarmed by deer, here. Squads of them patrol the streets. The other night I watched half a dozen of them nearly getting hit broadside by a car barreling up the hill from the Happy Landings bar and grill. The night before as I walked the dog, one materialized out of the darkness at me, not a bit shy. She wanted a carrot; demanded one, even.
Because that’s the other thing about them: they’re not just hungry, and vermin-infested, and a traffic hazard. They’re tame, and way too numerous for what is a small but nevertheless fully functioning city, with sidewalks and streetlamps and so on. Why, you can get right up close to a group of half a dozen or so — but I advise no closer than about six feet, because that’s how far a flea can jump and ticks, I’ve heard, can teleport themselves right into your ear canal.
And don’t even get me started on what deer do to the gardens. Tulips chewed to the ground, blueberry bushes pruned to within a centimeter of their lives, hostas munched and sedum crunched and if you planned a vegetable garden this year, forget it. There are sprays that are supposed to repel them, so smelly I have to wear a respirator meant to filter out poison gas to apply them, but I’m pretty sure the deer just think it’s vinegar-and-oil for their salad. We use other methods, too: Irish Spring soap shavings in mesh bags, essence of coyote or wolf, motion-activated water sprays, invisible fences made of clear fishing line whose unexpected touch is supposed to startle them and send them fleeing.
I think those deer like being startled. To them, it’s a form of dinner theater. A cool shower is always nice, and the only spray that really works on them is a spray of bullets.
But! Do you know what it takes to get a deer-herd reduction operation going? I mean even after you get past the Bambi factor? In the latest issue of The Working Waterfront, Sandy Oliver reports on how Islesboro is going about it, and details just how difficult and complex, not to mention expensive, it can be.
For one thing, the State of Maine owns all the deer so first a municipality has to get state permission for a special hunt. Then a plan for the hunt has to be approved by the citizens (good luck). The landowners have to give permission, and each owner can say what weapons are okay to use on his or her land. Arrangement for butchering and storage must be made. Safety concerns must be addressed. Not that any of this is unnecessary, but it’s all a huge undertaking.
And…it’s sad. Hey, even without the Bambi factor, I’m talking about a lot of animals who didn’t ask to be where they are, have no idea of the havoc they’re wreaking, and don’t “deserve” to be at the wrong end of a shotgun or crossbow, or on my dinner menu.
So I have a different idea. These creatures are owned by the State of Maine, right? So really, they’re just like a herd of somebody else’s cows. But now they’re grazing in our gardens, “fertilizing” our yards, and wandering around on the runway of our local airport, for pete’s sake. It seems only right that the owner of these animals should…
That’s right. Come and get them. Other parts of the state have a deer shortage, I hear, instead of the zillions of them that we enjoy. So instead of us shooting them (about which I shudder to think, actually: shades of Elmer Fudd) I hereby request that the State of Maine come and tranquilize the animals, load them onto comfy transport with helpful veterinarians and Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife staff, and take them to places where the air is clear, the food and cover are plentiful, and the future looks bright at least until next hunting season.
Otherwise, we’re going to have to start advertising for the deer-ish equivalent of the Pied Piper, because I just looked out the window and saw someone looking in. Reading over my shoulder, in fact, and from the expression on his face I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like what I’m writing.
And he has antlers.
Good idea. Much better than all that hunting stuff! Dee
Funny post on a dead serious topic, Sarah.
The headaches caused by overpopulation of deer in places where the numbers become too concentrated can be difficult to explain to people who’ve never lived with it. I was a Peaks Islander in the era before, during and after the big deer hunt debate there. Just as you describe, it had gotten to the point where deer became ubiquitous. I walked by a half dozen ever morning on my way to the boat. They were everywhere, like dogs.
The Lyme danger was what finally spurred action and the inter-community debates were wild (as debates about most everything are on islands, and of course, Eastport is an island, too.)
Eventually a sharpshooter was hired. The wildlife biologists believed the deer herd numbered about 100 at that time. It turned out nearly three times that were taken the first year. It took several years for the understory of vegetation to return, but it’s back now.
Bambi, hell. When they’re looking in your windows, it’s time to let go of sentimentality.
Deer are something I know a bit about. They really are amazing creatures—a majestic vermin if such a thing is possible.
One of my favorite natural books of all time is Richard Nelson’s HEART AND BLOOD: LIVING WITH DEER IN AMERICA. It’s not only the best book I’ve ever read about deer; it’s also the best book I’ve ever read about how utterly clueless urban and suburban Americans are about the natural world.
I should also mention that Bambi—at least the Disney version—was a Maine deer, as I note here:
Natural history books, I meant.
Majestic vermin — perfect description of the Eastport deer, and one reason its so hard to get agreement on what to do about them, I think. And Brenda, yes, it is difficult to explain to people who aren’t affected. “But they’re so cute!” is the refrain.
Sending those deer someplace else only means that both of you have a deer population explosions. Your town is obviously a great home for deer so their population will grow out of control again. You can’t keep sending them to other places because they have their own deer problem.
Deer populations explode because there are no predators left to cull them. Add a year round supply of very nutritious food and you have a big problem. Without something to cut the population it’s going to grow to the point that they strip the land and the only way to stop that without human intervention is to let them starve to death. And since no Bambi lover will allow that, cities or states will be forced to feed those starving deer, leading to yet more deer.
The only way to stop this is to kill enough of them to stabilize the population. Which means opening up a hunting season. Or capture the deer and instead of just moving them to another place, put them down. I don’t think you’d have any trouble finding people who love to have it on their dinner table.
It’s worse than many people realize. When the Borders in Brunswick closed, I saw three deer well disguised as Canadian tourists buy up all the available copies of “Deer-Proofing Your Landscape” for 50 cents each and sniggering as they paid for them with their Cabela’s Logo Visa cards.
Just north of Eastport, is Forest City, and the St. Croix watershed. At a resource center there, a naturalist was bemoaning the lack of deer in the woods there. Maybe the city of Eastport could encourage a bowhunt, tranquilizer dart event, load up a cattle truck from the wharf and take a two hour drive north with a load. Or better yet, load them on a cattle ship and send them to Turkey! Again, congrats on your newest book, Dead Level, and thanks for such an amusing essay.
I think a relocation effort is just the ticket! Combined with a census taking and health of the herd research it could be a good training session for vets & IFW.
As this was written 4 years ago, did a solution arise? When our town was inundated they agreed two bow hunting in city limits as houses are almost cheek by jowl, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but as we left for Italy I have no idea how it came out.
By the way, I do enjoy your books having restored two 1880 homes.