Coming home from a late dinner recently, my lovely wife and I noticed a group of strangers in our back yard. No, they were not burglars. It was a herd of about a half-dozen deer lounging in the grass.

We do not live in the country. We live in town in a residential neighborhood. Now, I’m not so possessive I can’t share my yard, but these deer are not harmless. They ravage my garden, dig up my lawn, and eat my small trees and shrubs, especially in the winter. They have adapted to city life, occasionally walking down the middle of our street.

My neighborhood is not unique. Friends in other parts of town have similar stories. I think Waterloo neighborhoods have the same problem. Deer have become partially domesticated and apparently some find city living better than country living.

They are also a serious problem in more rural areas. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa has been averaging more than 7,500 vehicle-deer crashes per year for several years, and that number is increasing. State Farm Insurance estimates the average cost of car damage from hitting a deer is in the $3,000-$4,000 range. That translates into millions of dollars annually. More importantly, some people suffer injury and even death.

In addition, deer are hard on our environment. University of Wisconsin professor of botany and environmental studies Don Waller, writing in the UW Alumni magazine, argues deer may pose a greater threat to forests than climate change. They are eating and destroying a wide variety of plants and trees almost to extinction. While we still see many towering oaks, deer tend to destroy young seedlings. Hemlock and aspen trees are disappearing. UW professor John Curtis estimates deer account for more than 25% of the changes in plant composition in forests.

The reality is the deer population in Iowa is too large, and they are dangerous to humans and plants. Something needs to be done, and there are some simple solutions. To begin, increase the target number of the annual deer harvest. Currently, the DNR sets the goal between 100,000 and 120,000. Raise this goal by extending the hunting season and increasing individual quotas. Deer hunters are a dwindling number in Iowa and the remaining group are more than willing to help thin the deer population.

In town, communities should embark on a deer control program. Cities can hire deer control professionals trained to reduce the deer herd without endangering the human population. Another option is a carefully regulated and controlled urban bow hunting season. Cedar Rapids again this year will implement its urban deer hunt for four months starting in September. Last year, the program took over 100 deer and the sale of permits actually generated revenue for the city.

Doubtless there will be pushback. Nobody wants to see Bambi’s mother shot. But I am not suggesting eliminating all deer. Rather, we need to recognize there is a problem and do something about it. A regularly evaluated, carefully regulated program is a good start.

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Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the economics department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the university.


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