dead deer pests

Asked October 17, 2013, 6:48 PM EDT

After 35 years here with gardens, many roses, hibiscus and all nature of other growables, we have, in the last 3 or 4 years, come under attack by deer. OR Fish & Wildlife repeatedly sez there is nothing they can do about it. They have even stopped returning calls. We, and grandkids, have come face to face with some dandy bucks that are not fazed by close surprise contact with humans. I have dumped all nature of expensive repellents around the garden and flower beds to no avail. It is a rare rose that makes it through bud stage to bloom. At this point I am looking into lethal means of ridding myself and the neighborhood of these potentially dangerous wild animals. I am in search of a method of poisoning the pests whereby they will feast and wander off into the sunset, never to return. Harsh, huh? It even sounds harsh to me! Nevertheless.... Suggestions???

Umatilla County Oregon

1 Response

Hi there and thank you for your question.
Several things could be interacting to produce the increased deer pressure in your area. Rather than focusing on diagnosing the source of the increased browsing pressure, it will be more helpful for me to focus on helping you manage the pressure as it currently exists.
Deer and other plant-eating animals all evolved under the pressure to find the maximum quality and amount of food. Regardless of how much "open space" is around a deer herd, they will hang out where nutritional value is highest (and safest). I don't know how dense your neighborhood is (that is, how many gardens/yards they're raiding), but I'll bet two things. First, that there are lots of tasty yard plants within easy walking distance from your yard and second, that there are not nearly as many natural predators hanging out compared to the wider surrounding area because of the number of people, dogs, cars, and general "scariness" of the area to something like a lion, bear, or coyote. The other thing that is going on is that most yard and garden plants come from someplace else and have been highly modified to maximize flowers or fruiting, such as roses and common garden vegetables. Plants native to Umatilla County evolved expecting to get munched by things like deer, so they invested in strategies to reduce or avoid extensive damage. So if you look at our native Rosa species (like the Wood's rose), they're very simple in their flowers, and they produce lots of thorns, and they grow less of their mass as juicy leaves compared to our prettier domestic tea roses, for example. Native plants are also limited in nutritional value (to a deer) by the soil nutrients provided by natural cycles, whereas we all do our best to "feed" our yard plants. All that plant food makes our plants grow well, but they are very tasty and much higher in nutritional quality to a deer than the native plants. So essentially all those yards in your neighborhood represent a big buffet that acts like a deer-magnet. More houses come into an area, more yards, more tasty plants...and all of a sudden it becomes far more profitable for deer to come in from miles away rather than staying out on the range eating bitterbrush, etc. You and your neighbors are not going to be able to convince deer to quit doing what evolution has taught them so well. Your best investment at this point will likely involve a stout fence. The initial outlay might seem substantial, but when you consider the annual loss of veggies, flowers, and plants themselves, plus what you have been spending on repellents that wash off with rain (and that deer learn to ignore), it can pencil out pretty quickly. This handout is getting somewhat old but you'll find lots of ideas for fencing midway through: http://icwdm.org/handbook/mammals/Deer.asp
I'll bet if you ask for specific help on excluding the deer from a focused area, and if you have some preliminary ideas of designs, your local ODFW would be able to offer some good, site-specific advice that would help you choose the best fencing option for the area you're looking to protect.
I hope this information proves helpful,
Dana