New 'Hidden Life' in dogged pursuit of deer
- By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY
Many suburban homeowners and gardeners are not going to like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' new book, The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons From the Natural World (Harper, $24.99). She's a deer-hugger. Plants be damned.
Thomas, 78, is an anthropologist, environmentalist and just about every other ist you can think of when it comes to nature. But she's also a pragmatist who says man and Bambi can coexist.
"What we have to understand is their habitat is being encroached upon," says Thomas, whose 1993 The Hidden Life of Dogs was a best seller.
"And deer are large, so they're going to have their enemies, and that's too bad."
There are an estimated 20 million to 25 million deer in the USA, according to Cooperative Extension at Cornell University. And the number is growing, as natural predators and hunting have declined. In some areas, there are now as many as 100 deer per square mile, especially in eastern metropolitan areas.
Many deer now wander into sprawling suburban areas looking for food.
They also wander onto roads. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there are about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year, resulting in about 150 human fatalities and more than 10,000 personal injuries. "I'm personally more concerned for the deer," Thomas admits.
The solution? Land conservation, she says.
"We may never find a way to live in suburbia with deer as we do with raccoons, say, or squirrels," says Thomas. "So for this reason it's very important that we make sure always to save enough wild or open land so that they can live in their normal manner." Thomas believes deer populations could be controlled through birth control medication injected through a dart. She also does not rule out hunting entirely.
"If they shoot the deer, at least use the venison," she says. "But there's lots of irresponsible hunting going on out there."
The National Park Service deals with the deer problem daily. It presented a plan to residents near Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., this month on how to cull the deer herds. It contains everything from sharpshooters to euthanasia to protective fencing and birth control.
Thomas says the lesson she learned while watching deer from her New Hampshire farmhouse was that they are very social animals.
(Thomas' book begins with her feeding corn to the deer when acorns did not appear one fall.)
"I always thought of deer as solitary animals that weren't very interesting. But my goodness, that was very wrong," she says. "The big eye-opener for me was that they're social. They have family groups."
As for keeping them from eating shrubs around the house, Thomas says coyote urine, which can be found at most sporting goods stores, is a good deterrent.
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