North America’s whitetail deer population was an estimated 20 million when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. There are 30 recognized subspecies. Since then, millions of acres of wildlife habitat have disappeared as forests were cleared for farming, homes and industry. North Carolina’s estimated deer population now exceeds 1 million and is growing, even as 335,000 licensed hunters vainly attempt to maintain a healthy balance. Pinehurst has an overabundance of whitetail deer, Odocoileus Virginianus, America’s favorite and most common large land mammal.
In 2014, the Pinehurst Village Council commissioned a nine-member Deer Management Task Force to analyze the problem. It received valuable input from experts, including the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Its 80-page report confirmed a “pocket of deer in the Linden Road, Clarendon Gardens and Pinewild area that may need special attention.” Biologists estimated the Linden area deer population density was 15 to 29 per square mile. Lacking predators it could be higher now. Wildlife experts then recommended culling a minimum of 100 deer from Pinehurst to keep its present herd healthy.
The study was hardly needed. One now sees deer boldly walking roadways in broad daylight. At night, these nocturnal animals are found everywhere. They visit the lake area to drink and forage regularly. They enthusiastically savor with impunity the tastiest and finest plants money can buy. Whitetails are famous for their food consumption. Each deer eats on average, over a ton of food annually, resulting in significant crop and habitat damage. Unfortunately, in all of Moore County, fewer than 3,000 deer are harvested annually by hunters.
Deer management is challenging because the typical female produces 1.7 offspring annually or about 10 every five years. Sterilization is impractical and expensive. The only realistic answer is selective culling by highly trained archers or firearm specialists managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Spraying plants with commercial repellents only encourage hungry deer to leave your property for entrée meals at your neighbors’.
After considering the Task Force’s comprehensive report, the council voted “no” to initiating a culling program. As more homes are built and less land remains natural habitat, landscape damage must increase. Deer Crossing signs do not significantly reduce car accidents. Last year the Highway Patrol recorded 1,947 car wrecks in the Moore County areas they cover outside the local municipalities. Of those, 369 involved animals, of which 95 percent were deer. In Pinehurst, the number of deer-related car accidents averages about 16 annually.
Whitetails are prolific breeders. When uncontrolled their numbers can quickly get out of balance with the range’s carrying capacity and all nature suffers because of habitat destruction.
A whitetail’s range is small. It will eat green-leaved succulent plants and the tender new growths of stems and fruits. They love acorns. Natural habitat can be quickly destroyed. Hungry deer become a nuisance throughout the year, especially during the winter months when they will feed on ornamental shrubs and trees around houses.
Whitetails can quickly create a negative domino effect in nature. Biologists realize this and generally recommend culling when called for. It is long overdue in Pinehurst.
My suggestion is that Pinehurst consider a program like the one Pinewild has successfully developed. Each hunting season a small and carefully selected group of about 10 Pinewild resident hunters legally harvest about 15-20 deer in its forested area, which is not within Pinehurst’s annexed land area.
The hunters are experienced and carefully vetted with safety standards rigorously enforced. The program targets mature breeding age does and bucks. Much of the venison is donated, primarily to an appreciative rural church congregation in Montgomery County.
I suggest that the village of Pinehurst work with its police force and a biologist/wildlife expert to develop a similar program. Meanwhile, during hunting season, land owners can harvest deer on their own property using bow and arrow, or by hiring professional archers. Firearms may not be legally discharged within Pinehurst’s village limits.
No other animal on this continent is so visible, so beloved and so valuable to millions of people as whitetail deer. They deserve and need our protection. To let them over-populate here does them and other animals a disservice.