Deer are dear to Ohioans. Young or old, we’re fascinated by a doe peeking out of the woods or a young buck loping across a grassy field. They’re an unexpected but welcome sight as we’re driving down the road or playing a round of golf or just looking out our back windows. It’s one of the perks of living in Ohio – a nice little experience that’s fleeting and free.
Well, maybe not for everyone.
The millions of us who briefly encounter deer do so at little or no cost. But it can be very costly when that deer becomes either a hood ornament or an eating machine.
Those car-deer collisions carried a cost of $70 million. Deer damage to crops, timber and nursery plants cost farm families additional millions. One Farm Bureau member has documented $70,000 in personal losses, likely an extreme, but indicative of the problem. A Cornell University study said that nationally, deer do more than $2 billion in damage every year. What’s irritating to farmers, and presumably insurers and policyholders, is that while most everyone proclaims the joys of abundant wildlife, only a few are paying the associated costs.
Part of the problem is we have too much of a good thing. Ohio’s current deer herd is estimated at 700,000. Just 20 years ago, we had 150,000. Making things worse, the herd has grown while open space has shrunk. As we turn their habitat into housing tracts, we’re forcing the deer onto freeways and farms.
If 700,000 are too many, what’s a better number? 250,000 would be good, according to Ohio Farm Bureau delegates, who established that target during their annual policy meeting. It’s a severe number, intentionally.
The problem has been growing for years with no resolution in sight, creating a frustrating and unacceptable situation for farmers. Hopefully, the proposal will attach some urgency to the issue and begin a more productive dialogue with others in the outdoor community.
Frankly, my biggest concern isn’t about whether the right number is 250,000 or 700,000 or something in between. My worry is the number zero, which is what some people would like the deer harvest to be.
There are people who don’t condone hunting at all. But this is not a debate over whether we manage the deer herd; it’s a debate over how we do it. This conversation belongs to farmers, hunters, wildlife officials and others who understand that hunting is an acceptable, even preferred wildlife management tool. It’s not the time to allow an important public policy debate to be sidetracked, even stolen by proponents of extreme beliefs and values. We can hold the argument over whether “animals are people too” some other time.
For now, let’s stick to relevant questions. If deer are a public benefit, shouldn’t the public bear the cost? Should farmers welcome more hunters onto their property? Should hunters be more courteous guests? And ultimately, what’s an appropriate number of deer that will meet the needs of farmers, outdoorsmen and the public? It’s time to set that number, and then pull the trigger.