Spinning the Recovery of Deer Populations

Although the research consensus is that whitetail deer population are about equal to historic levels (pre-colonization) and mule deer and blacktail populations are lower, the recovery of the whitetail population and recent decline of mule and blacktail populations are often mischaracterized in the press and in research. Here is a representative collection. Some links may no longer be active. (Often they can be found by pasting the article name in a search engine).

Can't See the Forest for the Deer March 11, 2014, Wall Street Journal

... :The U.S. now has 30 million deer, a hundred times more than a century ago. From California to Long Island, the rising deer population has resulted in widespread property damage and crop losses" [the California deer population had fallen by about 75 percent from its peak in the 1960s] Similar information in the cover story of TIme magazine, America's Pest Problem: It's Time to Cull the Herd, December 9, 2013.

A more recent Wall Street Journal concedes that the whitetail population is about at European levels but that "Before European settlement, white-tailed deer thrived in the eastern U.S. at a density estimated at 2-4 animals per square kilometer. Research shows that if the density rises to more than 8 deer per square kilometer, many songbirds and native plant species decline." see How to Solve America’s Wild Deer Problem? Eat Them July 9, 2021, Frank Hyman, Wall Street Journal

The actual estimate for pre-European density in the U.S. is " estimated conservatively by a contemporaneous expert at 4 to 8 deer per km2 in the 5.2 million km2 of eastern North America where white‐tailed deer were most abundant, with localized areas that that contained 20 to 40 or more deer/km2 (McCabe and McCabe 1984)." See: Regaining the History of Deer Populations and Densities in the Southeastern United States, Brice B. Hanberry, Phillip Hanberry, Wildlife Society Bulletin. A U.S. forest service study puts the optimal deer density at 15 to 28 deer per square mile. See: Deer Density and Forest Regeneration

Problematic White-Tailed Deer Information in in Rochlin et al. (2022) Regarding Past and Future Tick (Amblyomma americanum, Acari: Ixodidae) Distributions 2022, Journal of Medical Entomology

Figure 3 in this Journal of Medical Entomology article is central to the authors’ warning about an exploding white-tailed deer population but conflicts in important aspects with the relevant deer research. Among other problems, it shows a 60% increase in the white-tailed deer density from 1500 to 2020 when the research consensus is that the population is about the same. It shows an exploding population from 2000 to 2020 without supporting data when the population peaked around the year 2000 according to evidence-based research.

Deer, invasive earthworms gang up to damage forested areas May 6, 2019 Ohio, Phys.org

... "Ohio's deer herd has grown from about 17,000 in 1979 to more than 700,000 today" ....

Ohio Deer: The Ohio deer population is down from about 800,000 in 2001 ... since 2014 when the population feel to about 640,000 the ODNR has been targeting moderate growth in the herd ... White-tail deer were plentiful when Ohio became a state in 1803, but were nearly wiped out by 1904 as a result of uncontrolled hunting and clearing of forests for farmland.

Regional changes to forest understories since the mid-Twentieth Century: Effects of overabundant deer and other factors in northern New Jersey JF Kelly - Forest Ecology and Management, 2019 - Elsevier

..."I studied long-term, regional changes in forest understories in northern New Jersey, comparing data from 62 stands in 2014–2018 to historical data gathered from the same stands in 1948–1973, when statewide deer densities were substantially lower."

New Jersey Deer: The New Jersey DEP estimates the deer population in 2017 was about 112,000 down from a recent peak of about 204,000 in 1995. The state does not include suburban deer in the estimate. Deer are native to New Jersey with a thriving population in colonial days. In 1948-1973 the deer population was recovering from being virtually wiped out in the state, so populations were lower in many parts of the state, but regional deer densities were varied.

According to the 1999 Governor's Report on Deer Management, page 6: "Despite news media reports that the New Jersey deer population is exploding, the statewide population has remained relatively stable during the past several years ... On a regional basis, deer populations actually peaked in the 1930s in the pinelands of southern New Jersey and in many areas of northern New Jersey in the 1950s (Burke et al., 1990)."