Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Deer Hunting Effects Misrepresented

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Deer Hunting Effects Misrepresented

Did you receive a disturbing flyer in the mail about archery hunting in Fairfax County? The flyer displays a graphic depiction of a deer with an arrow through its face (from N.J.) and claims that bowhunting is responsible for deer vehicle collisions (DVCs). This flyer from an anonymous source has raised many questions, as it was designed to do. However, the question you should be asking is: Are these claims true?

To not bury the lead, the answer is no. This flyer goes beyond a simple misunderstanding of ecological systems or DVCs. It falsely represents an analysis of VDOT data and takes a single sentence from the scientific literature out of context with the dubious intent of convincing you that the science supports their position when it does not. This flyer is full of lies.

But how do we know? The VDOT data used in the flyer were acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. The DVCs in the data were mapped against the Fairfax County Deer Management Program in order to investigate the flyer’s claim that 92 percent (287 of 310) of the DVCs occur within 1 mile of a park undergoing deer management. We found that claim was false. In order to include 287 DVCs, we had to count DVCs within one and a half miles from parks, not one mile. Why does that matter? First, it is a blatant lie in the flyer and shows the author’s willingness to reject reality and replace it with their own fantasy. Second, 92 percent of Fairfax County is within one and half miles of a property in the Deer Management Program. Therefore, 92 percent of the DVCs happen on 92 percent of the area of Fairfax County. The VDOT data do not support the claim that DVCs increase because of deer management activities.

There is a research project in the City of Fairfax investigating an experimental deer sterilization method. The flyer claims that only three DVCs occurred in the city during the time of the study. However, the VDOT data shows seven. Another lie! The flyer goes on to attempt to claim that the sterilization study has decreased DVCs. To investigate this claim, I used VDOT data from 2005 to 2016 for the City of Fairfax. Prior to the study being implemented in 2014, the City of Fairfax averaged 1.3 DVCs per year (12 DVCs in 9 years). During the study, the City of Fairfax averaged 2.3 DVCs per year (7 in 3 years). The number of DVCs has actually increased during the time of the deer sterilization study. However, as an honest man, I cannot suggest that this slight increase is a result of the sterilization project. The increase, while real, could be caused by any number of factors.

The flyer goes on to claim that an article published in the Journal of Wildlife Management in 1985 supports the long-held belief by those that oppose hunting that bowhunting actually increases deer populations. The article in question is “Reproductive Dynamics and Disjunct White-tailed Deer Herds in Florida” by Richter and Labisky. This study did find that female deer in hunted populations had an insignificant increase in fawns versus deer in non-hunted populations. Why? Here is where we lose the authors of the flyer because we have to apply a little ecological knowledge, or maybe read the entire article they misrepresent. This article goes on to explain that hunted deer populations are more healthy deer because they are in better balance with their environment and are better capable of reproducing than non-hunted deer because non-hunted deer are less healthy. That does not mean that hunting will increase the deer population. In fact, hunting reduces the deer population because it overcomes the slight increase in reproduction associated with healthy deer. Hunting is how deer populations are managed in Virginia and the declining deer herd in the state is testament to the efficacy of the method.

There are other false claims in the anti-hunting flyer, but I hope that I have made my point. Perhaps there is a reason the author of the flyer did not sign their work. They knew they were lying to you. I will sign mine.

Kevin R Rose

Certified Wildlife Biologist