The burgeoning deer population continues to be an unresolved issue for Rye residents.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
The burgeoning deer population continues to be an unresolved issue for Rye residents. Having taken up roots in many parts of the city, the deer raise issues of public safety, because of the danger they pose to drivers and to the spread of tick-borne Lyme disease. In addition, many feel that the decimation of plant life that beautifies Rye and provides a habitat for wildlife cannot be ignored any longer.
On behalf of an area on the periphery of the Marshlands Conservancy that has been particularly barraged by the white-tailed species, the City’s District One Committee is attempting to expedite the implementation of some form of deer population control by Westchester County.
“We have been complaining about the problem for years, and decided we had to act,” said Chairperson Anne Dooley. “Friends and neighbors talk about the deer that have or almost have hit their cars, and the Rye Police and Department of Public Works have the numbers to prove it.”
About herds of deer eating their way through much of Rye, she added, “Our neighborhoods and parklands were more beautiful when my family moved here 19 years ago. There are many fewer plants, shrubs, and trees because the deer eat all types of plants, including some that are considered deer-resistant.”
Representing parts of Greenhaven, The Preserve, and Hannan Place, the committee is comprised of citizens from those neighborhoods in the Rye Neck Union Free School District that make up the City’s electoral District One. Their goal is to spread news within the community, as well as present issues of concern to elected officials. Regarding the deer, the committee has reached out to Mayor Joe Sack who has discussed the issue with the City Council. In addition, they have launched a letter-writing campaign to the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.
Under the direction of Dooley, the committee recently asked neighborhood associations in District One to join the campaign, requesting that County Parks Commissioner Kathleen O’Connor make deer control a priority. At present, O’Connor has indicated she is assembling a task force, along with Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett and County Chief of Staff George Oros. Subsequently, a proposal will be presented to Mayor Sack since any action taken at Marshlands and vicinity will require City planning, budgeting, and public hearings.
According to Dooley, the County’s inclination is to develop a deer management program that would jointly address the issues faced by the Marshlands and Rye City. Pointing out the importance of a program that incorporates both the County Park and the City, Dooley referred to a 2011 study entitled “Movements of White-Tailed Deer in a Suburban Ecosystem,” which addresses the ecological ramifications the community faces.
In the comprehensive thesis written by South Texas Wildlife Management owner and Rye native Hank Birdsall, the deer density at Marshlands was estimated to be 193 deer per square mile. More than ten deer per square mile severely damage the ecosystem according to the management program at the Farm and Ecological Preserve at Vassar College. Not only do forestry, agriculture, and landscaping suffer, but the health of the deer themselves declines due to the spread of disease and the scarcity of food.
Birdsall, who is currently working on a project that focuses on white-tailed deer management on the Mexican border for his Master’s degree, suspects that without management having been put into practice in Rye these last few years, that number has risen. Consequently, the deer are increasingly relying upon the gardens and lawns of the surrounding areas as a source of nutrition.
“With such a high deer density, no forest regeneration is occurring at the Marshlands,” said Birdsall. “With an understory devoid of native saplings, many wildlife species, including wood thrushes and other understory nesting birds, will have a tough time.”
Deferring to the County to determine which management program is most effective and humane, the District One Committee is keeping the pressure on in order to mitigate the deer overpopulation problem once and for all. Culling the population by bow hunting, professional sharpshooters or birth control are options being considered.
“We don’t want to see deer eliminated; in small numbers they are adorable. But the County has a responsibility to get the number of deer down to a more sustainable level,” noted Dooley. “We hope this also reduces car accidents, the incidence of Lyme disease, and the disgusting amount of deer poop on our lawns.” Deer close to home.