The Potomac Highlands School of Water Resources 

High School Environmental Forum

Deer & Agriculture - responses to William Grafton

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The topic is the effects of deer overpopulation on our region, and what to do about it.  This is a moderated conversation, where CI reviews entries for relevance to the topic and then posts them to the website on a daily basis.   There will be, at least, three tracks for this conversation: 1) personal experience stories (not hunting); 2) discussion of the problem; and 3) seeking solutions.   A new track was opened here on February 25 for comments on Mr. Grafton's post on deer and agriculture.  This forum began on Wednesday, February 16, 2005.  The comment form is on the main forum page

Moderator.  We had 40 responses from Mr. Moore's Environmental Science classes on Wednesday, February 23.  Students were asked to respond to William Grafton's (West Virginia University) post on deer impacts on agriculture.  The responses can be categorized into 4 to 5 categories.  Most generally agreed with Mr. Grafton contention that this is a problem.  Sixteen of these agreed that there should be new surveys of deer damage on agriculture.  Seven promoted more hunting, and several seemed interested in hearing themselves talk.  Posted below are some responses from students who took extra time to really frame the issue (yes, there is some repetition in their comments), offer a comment that can move the discussion forward or that needs further exploration.    

Name: Chuck R Grade: Grade_9to10. County: Hampshire  School: Hampshire High School WV
Teacher: Moore  Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 12:33

I completely agree Mr. Grafton, the problem could be solved many different ways, but I agree with yours the most. The most important point I think is "the deer population has exceeded the ecological carrying capacity, which is the level where deer do not adversely affect associated forest species such as ruffed grouse, rabbits, and ground dwelling songbirds." This is an important observation. Surveys during the 1980s indicated deer damage costs to West Virginia's agriculture was about $35 million annually. We need to make a survey to compare it to the one from the 80's.


Name: Stephanie D.s  Grade: Grade_11to12  County: Hampshire  School: Hampshire High School WV
Teacher: Mr. Moore  Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 12:35

My comment is for Mr. William Grafton's article. I think you have some valuable information, but it needs to be updated. For example, you said a survey in the 1980's was done and the estimated cost of deer damage was $35 million dollars. Have you done an update on that survey? Has it changed? There is like a 20 year gap between then and now! I read in the Hampshire Review that Deer population was posing a threat to ginseng. Would you consider this a major problem?


Name: Curtis K.  Grade: Grade_11to12  County: Hampshire  School: Hampshire High School WV
Teacher: Mr. Moore   Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 12:36

If a study on crop damage has not been done since the 1980's, I think that study should be done again to see if the cost of damage has increased. If these numbers have increased, farmers would have a harder time making their living. If 35 million is lost from deer damage annually, that is all losses from the farmers. The farmers are probably not taking the loss directly, but farmer insurance companies pay. That would raise the cost of insurance, then decreasing the new farmers that would want to join the business. Since farmers are switching to crops of lesser value, that means less money is in West Virginia, but still taking up the same amount of field space.

Moderator Comment:  Do insurance companies insure against crop damage due to wildlife?  If so, does this insurance really make up for the losses to farmers? 


Name: Kevin L.  Grade: Grade_11to12  County: Hampshire School: hampshire high school WV
Teacher: Mr. Moore Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 12:39

I think the deer have become a problem. The understory of woods around my house has looked the same the past couple of years and know I'm starting to understand that the deer are becoming a problem. I've never noticed any understory because there never was, since I've lived here.

Moderator Comment:  Itís a problem isn't it?  Many young people who live in this region have never seen a healthy forest.


Name: Kathy H. Grade: Grade_11to12  County: Hampshire School: HHS WV
Teacher: Mr. Moore Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005 Time: 15:02

I just read the article by William Grafton and I will respond to the reading. I think that the damage amounts presented in the comment is significant and something should be done. I'd say just if you're going to have a crop that deer will destroy, secure it better so the deer cannot get it. Also, the idea of planting plants with less economic value, yet that are more immune to damage by deer, may also be a good idea. Even though the crops are valued less, if you get more of a surplus, it could add more strength to the economic status. Those are my thoughts...

Moderator Comment:  How exactly do you secure a crop better so deer can't get it?  And what would it cost?  Could a farmer do that and afford to continue as a farmer?  What effect would these increased costs have on the price of food?  Here's a story to illustrate how difficult it is to fence deer out of an area.  The National Zoo has an endangered species facility near Front Royal, VA.  A number of years ago they realized that they had a big-time problem with deer on their grounds and planned to hold a hunt to reduce the population.  They were prevented from doing so by people who disapprove of hunting.  So they decided to build a fence.  It was a heck of a fence - if I remember right it was high tensile wire, with wires spaced closely from the ground to a height of eight feet (something like that anyway).  It was not even completed before the deer had figured out how to get through it. 

     I just received notice of a moose and elk fencing experiment in Montana.  Here are the important details:

Three types of fences designed to keep elk and moose out of 1-acre areas were tested in forest habitat.  Fences being tested include: "a 7 Ĺ-foot-tall plastic mesh fence and two 6-foot-tall electric fences, one using polyethylene rope with metal wires braided into the rope (polyrope) and the other using high-tensile steel wire. The electric fences use 7,000-volt pulses. They are powered by a 12-volt deep-cycle battery and a 20-watt solar panel. . . .   The fences are intended to last for at least 8 years and cost from $2.12 to $2.72 per lineal foot to install."  The high-tensile steel electric fence and plastic mesh fence have proved to be reliable.  (From " Fencing Out Wildlife: Plastic Mesh Fences and Electric Fences Monitored by Satellite Telemetry (0424-2838)" By: Gary Kees, U.S. Forest Service)


Name: Justin B Grade: Grade_11to12  County: Hampshire   School: Hampshire High School WV
Teacher: Mr. Moore  Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 15:03

I believe that crop damage does make farmers lose a lot of profit, but that has always been a problem. This is nothing new and really nothing anyone can help. One way to try to keep deer out, is to give them something else to eat away from your crop. Put corn and apple piles out for instance. It may not be 100% effective but it may help out some.

Moderator Comment:  Wildlife has always been a problem for farmers; that's why country folk call them varmints - because they can be a problem.  But has it always been a big problem, or did it used to be a manageable problem?  I have a small flock of chickens that wander around every day.  At night, if I don't pen them up, the "varmints" will get them, but I do pen them up and they are safe.  That is a manageable problem.  But we can't afford to put all of our cropland behind huge fences.  Perhaps others would like to comment on the consequences of putting out bait piles.


Name: Suzy L.  Grade: Grade_9to10  County: Hampshire  School: HHS  WV
Teacher: Moore  Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 15:05

In response to the article by William Grafton, stating that many farmers state that deer damage has forced them to quit farming or to switch to crops of lesser value but more resistant to deer herbivory, i think that farmers should invest more in fences and repellents and obtain Wildlife Damage Permits to lessen the problem.

Moderator Comment:  Should our area farmers, many of whom actually make little or no money farming, be forced to spend more of the money they don't make to control this problem they didn't create?  They have enough of a challenge trying to control agriculture related pollution that is their problem.


Name: AJD  Grade: Grade_9to10  County: Hampshire

Teacher: Mr. Moore  Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 15:07

Yes, I also feel that deer population has exceeded the ecological carrying capacity in W.V. What is causing them to grow in such numbers and what can we do to control the population of the deer? Well, I guess we know what we have to do or what we can do, but the problem is actually getting it done. One thing is for sure, before anything can really be decided or done, we need to be updating our information of deer damages and do some more surveys.

Moderator Comment:  AJD's post highlights some core issues.   Why are there so many deer?  What can we do to solve the problem?  Do we have the WILL to actually get it done?


Name: Kasey C.  Grade: Grade_11to12   County: Hampshire School: Hampshire High School  WV
Teacher: Mr. Moore  Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Time: 15:11

I feel as though we can not correctly seek a logical solution if we DO NOT take the time and energy to correctly survey the damage and track the number of deer. I believe that the basis on which we are being educated about the overpopulation and damage cause by deer is not up to date information. In order to correctly solve the problem of the overpopulation, and damage by deer we must first calculate the exact amount of deer inhabiting the mountains of West Virginia. We could then contact farmers and citizens of West Virginia. Later we could conduct a survey of their dealings with the deer. Once we acquire up to date deer population and damage surveys we can then discuss up to date solutions. Without correct recent surveys and credible information, we can not fully grasp the extent of the overpopulation and damage of deer. After we acquire data we can then deal with possible solutions.

Moderator Comment:  It is good to question whether there is a problem or not, and good to understand the need for up-to-date information.  However, deer populations are routinely estimated by the WV DNR wildlife biologists based on the annual buck harvest, and professional foresters routinely observe the impacts of deer on the forest resource.  This is a well understood and substantiated problem.  While it would be wonderful to have more targeted studies, more study is not really needed to define the general problem.  Mr. Grafton's note that we need an updated survey of agricultural damage for WV identifies an important data hole as it relates to our state, but the link to the farmer survey in New Jersey from Rutgers University may certainly be used as a proxy for WV data while we are waiting to collect recent WV data.  The issue I posed on possible impacts of deer on the hydrologic cycle is truly "out there" and in need of study.  Finally, what is really needed is some societal decision making that takes all of the costs and benefits of deer populations of various sizes into account.  No one sector should be deciding this issue.