Deer are an increasingly difficult problem in this region. Even if fences and sprays were effective; even if everyone planted only “deer-proof” species; even if there were no traffic accidents or cases of Lyme disease, deer herds in the woods—like those we see along the Saw Mill Parkway, on Mountain Road, and throughout the Rivertowns—are destructive to our region and our planet.
In the fragile ecosystems of the woodlands that surround and weave through our suburban areas, the deer are eating and/or have destroyed the lowest growing plants and shrubs, including tree seedlings. This is upsetting the balance of nature—of animal, insect and bird life—and is preventing regeneration of the forests, which are responsible through the carbon cycle for creating the very air we breathe.
Two recent speakers at Garden Club of Irvington events have educated members about this issue:
Carolyn Summers, a landscape architect and adjunct professor at Westchester Community College, is a local expert on biodiversity. She writes in Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East, “Instead of a sustainable number, perhaps ten or twenty deer per square mile, surveys are revealing population densities in the hundreds. Deer are eating themselves out of house and home. In the process, they are leaving little or nothing for other forms of wildlife, including the plants that support us all.”
Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, and author of Bringing Nature Home, agrees: “The deer are above their carrying capacity—that is, the herds are larger than the land can support—because we have killed all their predators. We have also created their favorite edge habitat, our gardens. In many places, the only plants the deer have left in our forest understory are invasive, unpalatable species. Our forests may appear to be healthy, but there is no recruitment; that is, the next generation of trees is being destroyed.”