Fighting a losing battle vs. the deer

Backyard gardeners try pallets, scented soaps to frustrate hoofed pests

Howard County

October 13, 2002|By Kristin Sette | Kristin Sette,SUN STAFF

Carol Fox is determined to frustrate the white-tailed deer that feed in her West Friendship garden.

She has erected an electric fence and sprayed repellents on the vegetables. And when the deer began eating the bottoms of her pine trees, Fox blocked their pathway and spread wooden pallets on the ground to discourage them from hopping the fence.

Some deer are still getting in, but Fox said she will keep trying.

"It's a balance of things," said Fox, 62, a master gardener who lives on 11 acres in western Howard. "The fencing, the repellents, you just have to keep trying combinations."

Fox seems a tireless, battle-hardened veteran, but she and Howard County are losing their war with the white-tailed deer.

Deer are continuing to multiply as new Howard developments with large wooded areas surrounding clusters of homes are providing more and more welcoming habitat.

"You've taken what was a good deer environment and made it better," said Douglas Hotton, deer project leader for the state Department of Natural Resources. "That's a classic suburban situation."

Evidence of the mounting problem is as grim and simple as the official count of deer found dead on Howard's highways.

That number rose from 896 in 2000 to 1,210 in 2001 - a 35 percent jump.

"There's a very severe spike this past year," said Phil Norman, the county's deer project manager.

Howard has scheduled a series of managed hunts in coming weeks to trim the herd.

Sniper concerns

Hunters who have been screened by county officials will be permitted to enter David W. Force Park and Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and kill an unlimited number of antlerless deer on scheduled days this month, next month and in December and January.

The hunts, which were scheduled to start Tuesday, have been delayed because of the public's anxiety over the Washington-area shootings.

But experts say the hunts will hardly help.

"We cannot manage the deer herd in Howard County simply by holding a number of hunts in small areas. It's less than 1 percent of the land in the county," said Norman.

Limited hunting

Norman said the problem is that hunters are limited to two park locations.

While both areas have large concentrations of deer, they make up only about 2 square miles of the 252-square-mile county, he said.

"That's the bad thing. We're restricted to a park," agreed Mark Wilson of Clarksville, who has participated in the county's white-tailed deer hunts for several years.

"The deer catch on real quick. Once the hunt starts, they go to the safety zones and move over to the homes."

Gary Arthur, director of the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, agreed.

"If we're really going to have an impact, we'll have to go to a countywide program," Arthur said.

When deer attempt to cross roads, the county experiences a new set of problems, as indicated in last year's count of road kills.

Reflectors installed

To reduce deer-related accidents, the county installed reflectors along Montgomery Road for about a mile from Interstate 95 west about three years ago.

Called Strieter-Lites, the reflectors are designed to redirect light from oncoming vehicles to deter wild animals from crossing the roads.

But Norman said he has seen no benefit to having the reflectors at that location, and they are pricey.

Installation of the reflectors costs about $10,000 a mile, he said.

Because experts have not identified any effective solution to dealing with the growing white-tailed population, many homeowners are learning that they simply have to live with the problem.

Norman and Bill Hamilton, Montgomery County's wildlife ecologist, said they have made videos about deer management to place in local libraries.

Howard County master gardeners also hold workshops for homeowners.

Hair, Irish Spring

At a recent deer management seminar at the Glenwood library in Cooksville, Donna White of Ellicott City recommended that homeowners try repellents and place human hair, dryer sheets and Irish Spring soap near their vegetation to keep the deer away.

White, also a master gardener, does not blame the white-tailed population deer for Howard County's problem.

"With the increase in housing, [developers] have taken over their habitat," White said.

"It's very controversial how people feel about wildlife. You have the deer as the innocent Bambi. ... It's a problem man has created."

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