Killing deer to prevent Lyme disease?
The incidence of Lyme disease in Tompkins County is low, as much as 10-20 times lower than some other New York counties.1 Of the small number of cases identified here, at least some are believed to be contracted by people traveling outside our region.2 None of the Lyme disease data from our county is linked specifically to Cayuga Heights.3
People don’t catch Lyme disease from deer, but from ticks. Neither the Tompkins County Health Dept. nor the American Lyme Disease Foundation support the killing of deer as a route to reducing Lyme disease risk. In fact, a recent study in New Jersey showed that after three years of an aggressive deer killing program, no reduction in Lyme disease rates or in disease-carrying tick populations were found.4
Instead, the Tompkins County Health Dept. focuses on tick bite prevention and identification, as well as diagnostic training for local medical professionals. They stress keeping lawns regularly mowed and removing brush piles. This helps eliminate habitats for ticks and their small animal hosts, such as birds and field mice, which, unlike the deer, are capable of contracting Lyme disease and passing it on to more ticks. In fact, a 2006 study found that the density and infectiousness of ticks can actually INCREASE when deer numbers are suddenly reduced in an area, since ticks then turn to smaller animal hosts, creating tick-borne disease “hot spots.”5
Collision rates: a sign of deer population spiraling out of control?
in Cayuga Heights
2008 - 7
2007 - 12
2006 - 11
2005 - 8
2004 - 10
There is no data demonstrating that the deer population in Cayuga Heights is spiralling out of control, bringing with it more and more deer-vehicle collisions (DVC’s). In fact, the village police reported 7 confirmed DVC’s in 2008, down from 12 in 2007, and 11 in 2006.6 In 2001, a report by Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources found that the rate of DVC’s in Cayuga Heights had been approximately 10 per year for the previous six years.7 So, for more than fifteen years now, the rate of DVC’s has been remarkably stable.
To keep things in perspective, no DVC in recent years has resulted in serious human injury, likely due to Cayuga Heights’ relatively low speed limit. Most fatalities from DVC’s
nationwide happen in speed zones of 55 mph or higher, when the victims are not wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets.8
Insurance reports have shown that DVC’s spike 300-400% in some communities on the first weekend of hunting season,9 likely due to startled and injured deer scattering into nearby
roadways. This could explain why DVC’s sometimes actually increase after bait-and-shoot programs are implemented.10
Biodiversity and bird populations at risk?
Bait-and-shoot proponents have claimed that the deer are destroying the environment and decimating bird populations in Cayuga Heights. However, when contacted, neither the National Audubon Society nor Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology knew of any documentation of bird species being adversely affected by the presence of deer in the village.11
Recent studies at Ohio State University found that the presence of deer is actually helpful to other animal species, and that programs to reduce their populations may be detrimental to a region’s biodiversity. “Culling deer may cascade into affecting plants, salamanders and other creatures in ways we can’t even imagine,” said OSU researcher Katherine Greenwald. “Officials need to know more about the forest ecosystem before making decisions about wildlife management.”12 Another study showed that some forest
understory-dwelling birds benefit from deer-grazing, and that the presence of deer decreased populations of rodents that preyed on ground birds’ nests.13
Donated venison will help those in need?
Few people realize that venison obtained from deer killing programs is exempt from USDA inspection, and is not necessarily safe. Venison from Irondequoit, NY’s bait-and-shoot program, donated to Attica prison, was deemed unfit for human consumption and discarded.14 The EPA states, “While it may seem that hunting your own game, catching your own fish, or gathering wild plant foods would reduce your overall exposure to pesticides, that isn’t necessarily true. If you eat wild animals or plants from areas where pesticides are frequently used, this food may contain pesticide residues.”15
Deer meat from a bait-and-shoot program is also likely to contain lead from the bullets used. Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and there is no safe level of exposure. It causes neurological,
gastrointestinal and reproductive disorders, and can potentially cause brain damage or death in children that consume even small amounts.16 North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin recently discarded thousands of pounds of donated venison due to the discovery of lead contamination.17 Dr. William Cornatzer, a medical researcher at the University of North Dakota, found lead in 60% of samples of ground venison that had been donated to food programs.18