Downtown Deer

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

We've come a long way with our deer herd. Early in the century, Missouri deer were on the verge of extinction. Researchers believe that only about 400 deer lived in the state in 1925. We endured an entire generation when whitetails were rarer than gold nuggets.

Now, as we close out the century, we have more than 800,000 deer in the state. Thanks to careful management by the Conservation Department and the natural reproductive capacity of deer, we've gone from about 1 deer for every 175 square miles to nearly 12 deer per square mile.

If deer were as evenly spaced as these numbers suggest, people and deer would get along happily. But deer populations don't heed statistics. Some areas in Missouri have few deer per square mile. Others have plenty of deer per square mile - some say too many.

Some of the state's highest deer densities are recorded in urban and suburban areas. High numbers of deer and high numbers of people in the same area results in conflicts, including deer damage to yards, gardens and shrubbery and lots of deer-vehicle collisions.

Deer will eat almost anything, including tree bark, when they are hungry. Tulips, shrubs, bulbs, garden vegetables and flowering plants are all delicacies for deer, and it doesn't take much browsing by a few 100-pound munchers to destroy a garden or a landscaping project. The deer's appetite for understory plants also reduces the food and shelter of songbirds and other urban wildlife.

Car-deer accidents have become a major problem in urban and suburban areas. Coupling a high volume of traffic with deer that have become less skittish than their wild neighbors results in many deer lying dead on the roadside and thousands of vehicles requiring repairs.

In metro areas, cars are probably the most efficient predators of urban deer. Out of 130 deer carrying transmitters as part of a study of urban deer in the St. Louis area, for example, at least 15 have been killed by vehicles in the last six months.

Each car-deer collision threatens lives. Nationally, about 100 people a year are killed in car-deer collisions across the country, and in a recent year 300 Missourians were injured in that same type of accident.

Public health officials believe that the increased incidence of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can lead to arthritis and heart damage, is related to increasing numbers of deer. The

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