Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his pals may hold a special place in our hearts during the holidays, but what about big herds of deer descending on neighborhoods and eating everything in sight? WFDD listener Kate Brinko wonders what's going on in Boone. 

White-tailed deer in the Great Smoky Mountains. Photo credit: Missy McGaw, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

“We live on the mountain in the northwest corner of Boone, so we're up against a lot of woods above and around us,” she says. “We have so many deer in the High Country here and beyond. Is there any program to limit their numbers to protect their health and safety?”

Reporter David Ford set out for answers in this installment of Carolina Curious.

First off, he wanted to know more about the conditions on the ground.

“Year before last there would be herds of 8, 10, or 12 deer that would come passing through," says Brinko. "And they're hungry and eat everything. We put in eight field-grown rhododendrons and the first week they were down to nubbins. I asked some friends to do some bow hunting and they went down along our property and said, ‘This is like Highway 95 over here,' so many deer. But then this year, all we saw were a doe, her two fawns, and I did have a sighting of two yearling buck.”

One thing that's clear: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission data for Watauga County show that there haven't been too many deer at least in terms of the available habitat. In general, they're not overrunning their surroundings. But District 7 Wildlife Biologist Jason Smith says people's tolerance is another concern. Feeding patterns change year to year — often due to urban development.

And when local deer populations do surge?

“The best answer to that is actually hunting,” says Smith. “Because hunting is the best tool and program that we recommend and has a long-term solution. It helps to maintain herd health in the deer population and also reduce these human/wildlife conflicts.” 

Smith says residents would have to change their local ordinances to allow for hunting there, but the Town of Boone can participate in the Commission's urban archery season. And for neighborhoods like Kate Brinko's on the outskirts, the Community Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) allows homeowners associations to request extra tags for hunters to use in designated areas.

And for those residents who want to live in harmony with area deer populations but who also would like to keep their gardens and landscaping plants from being eaten every year?

“Even in rural areas, deer are going to get into people's gardens just because these plants are very palatable and generally preferred by the animals,” says Smith. “The best method for protecting them really that I've seen and have folks do is use electric fencing to fence off these garden areas. And we have information concerning the proper ways to fence off these areas on our website.”   

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