After the dust settles, deer-culling doing job

info@islandpacket.comDecember 28, 2013 


Deer are an endearing part of Lowcountry life.

Hunting them is a leading industry in areas that are still rural. And where tourists and newcomers roam in thickly developed neighborhoods, the deer look sweet and add to the aura of an exotic landscape.

But over time, people in the new neighborhoods realized that deer reproduce like rabbits and eat like goats.

Little comfort comes in learning that the number one predator of deer in these parts is by far the automobile.

All those crunched cars and bitten begonias led to a clash of cultures on Hilton Head Island when "deer culling" was first proposed in the 1990s. It started with Sea Pines seeking permission to reduce its deer herd with nighttime sharpshooters.

A "Save The Sea Pines Deer" campaign involved academic studies and a long legal skirmish that resulted in a state court ruling in favor of deer-population control by private communities.

Quietly, roughly seven local private communities have been culling deer herds over the years in an effort to prevent vehicle wrecks, protect landscaping and guard against tick-borne illnesses.

By one important measure, it appears to be working.

In 2000, there were about 60 deer-car crashes in Sea Pines. As of mid-December, there were nine this year. Last year, there were only six.

Another positive sign is that the number of deer-culling permits issued by the state has declined. At its peak, 20 communities statewide participated; eight permits were issued this year. Early on, Sea Pines had permission to cull 300 deer in a season; last year, it removed 40.

A total of 200 deer are permitted to be shot this season in Sea Pines, Belfair, Colleton River, Hilton Head Plantation, Indigo Run, Leamington and Palmetto Bluff.

It is believed that the deer herd is healthier when being maintained at more sustainable levels. We still have plenty of deer, but fewer nuisances.

Still, it is unsettling to know that this much shooting is going on in the secluded corners of our developments.

It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But the culling has been done for many years without incident, and that high level of caution must continue.

Fripp Island has been able to do what a lot of people in Sea Pines wanted to do, and that is participate in an experiment that used contraceptives to manage the deer population. The process is expensive, but Fripp Island reports that the deer population was reduced by about half.

But the contraceptive approach is not yet available everywhere. And meanwhile, a carefully monitored, humane approach to culling the explosive deer population seems to be doing the job it was intended to do.

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