This is the third in a series of four articles on New Jersey’s overabundant deer population, focusing on health issues caused by deer.
Part 1 focused on the deer population numbers and their impact on Laurelwood Arboretum.
Click here for Part 1.
Part 2 focused on the economic impact of deer across the state.
Click here for Part 2.
Are you afraid of being bitten by a spider? Maybe you’re concerned about succumbing to a bee sting. How about going hiking and being mauled by a bear? Perhaps it’s dipping your toes in the water at the Jersey shore and encountering a shark that gives you nightmares. Well, if you are concerned about any of these, you are worried about the wrong perpetrator. The animal most likely to kill you is a deer, with approximately 200 deaths per year in the United States due to motor vehicle collisions.
Thousands of car accidents occur every year in New Jersey as a result of encounters with deer. New Jersey motorists have a one in 191 chance of striking a deer. These accidents result in injury and fatalities to motorists and are especially dangerous to motorcyclists. Deer-vehicle collisions are most likely to occur in the fall during the rutting season as deer look for mates. According to the American Automobile Association, from October to December of 2018, New Jersey reported 5,271 crashes, or one deer-related collision every 25 minutes during mating season! According to nj.com, in 2017 the Township of Wayne was number 12 in the state with 125 deer-vehicle collisions.
One need not be in a vehicle to become a deer casualty. This past June, three people in South Brunswick were injured when a deer ran into a crowd, causing a serious head injury to a 69-year old woman that left her in intensive care, and injured two other others.
When kept to a rate of 5 to 15 per square mile, deer play an important role in a healthy ecosystem. Unfortunately, New Jersey averages 112 deer per square mile, an untenable number. This results not only in motor vehicle (and other) collisions but contributes to a number of health hazards for both humans and deer.
Everyone has heard about deer ticks. Deer carry ticks and thereby contribute to tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, which has increased considerably in the last two decades.
Deer carry diseases as well as ticks. The disease of greatest concern to state wildlife officials is Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, which is fatal in deer. The disease has been seen in New York and Pennsylvania. Although not yet present in New Jersey, it may only be a matter of time – – deer do not respect state borders while roaming for food. Deer infect one another when they come nose-to-nose, especially as they crowd together for food, which is one reason why feeding them is discouraged. If you believe you are helping deer by feeding them, think again.
Do deer visit your garden? Do you grow vegetables? Well, you should be aware that deer feces (just like the feces of any animals) can transmit diseases, including E. coli. Be very careful to properly wash produce from your garden as well as your hands. Wear gloves when removing deer droppings from your garden.
On numerous occasions I have seen vehicles at Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park stop to hand-feed the deer through the windows, usually with children in the back seat and phones out for photo ops. How many of these people sanitize their hands after these encounters? Deer are wild animals, not pets to be used for human entertainment. To the argument that the deer are hungry and need to be fed by humans, the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife website clearly states, “Deer do not need human assistance for survival, even in the worst NJ winter. They have evolved for millennia without a human-supplied food source and will continue to thrive.” Indeed, that is precisely the problem – – without predators, they are thriving like never before.
The New Jersey Farm Bureau considers our state’s overabundant deer population a state emergency. It undermines our ecosystems, economy, and human health and is detrimental to the health of the deer themselves. It is time for New Jersey to tackle this problem.