WHITE-TAILED DEER: FRIEND OR FOE? by Jennifer Bearden UF/IFAS Agriculture Agent

White-tailed deer are aesthetically pleasing to most people. They conjure up images of the beloved Disney character Bambi or a big trophy buck.

However, to some, like insurance agents and farmers, deer are more like “rats on hooves.” Deer cause extensive damage to crops in North Florida as well as damage to our vehicles.

State Farm, in 2010, reported $3.8 billion in insurance claims and driver costs nationally. It was estimated 1.14 million accidents involved deer in 2010. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reported 140 human deaths resulted from deer-vehicle accidents.

In 2010, University of Florida researchers completed a survey of North Florida farmers. Local farmers reported almost 6,000 acres of crops lost to deer in 2009 and 2010. The cost estimate for damage to crops from deer in 2009 was more than $8 million in North Florida.

Farmers are left with few options to manage deer damage to their crops. Exclusion fences are expensive and not feasible for large farms. Hunting is a temporary and time-consuming option. Chemical repellants and frightening devices only work for short periods until deer become accustomed to them. Trap crops (crops or food plots planted near row crops) have not tested well. This option might work in combination with other methods of control and if the deer population is not too high.

The best solution for both farmers and vehicle occupants would be better management of deer populations in the area. Deer population numbers are managed by controlled hunting seasons, bag limits, and deer depredation permits while preserving suitable habitat. If habitat is conserved and deer populations managed, deer will not be much of a nuisance to humans, farmers, and the general public. Though beneficial to our ecosystem and environment, deer can be a nuisance when numbers are allowed to climb too high.

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