Commentary: We don’t have to live with Lyme disease

It’s a modern day problem that just won’t go away — too many deer, too little room. Once considered a charming novelty, deer have become instead a menace to the well-being of humans and other wildlife.

Following their natural instincts, a doe can produce twins every year, producing 10 to 14 fawns in an average life of seven to 10 years. Unchecked, herds can double every three to five years. Lacking natural predators in the wilds of suburbia, humans must assume that role.

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Read about the city of Shelton forming a Deer Committee to look into deer-related issues:

New committee in Shelton will study deer-related issues

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Otherwise, this dangerous and growing problem will go from its current “crisis” and will only get worse. And, there is no magic point in time when we can consider the situation a “fait accompli”; reproduction dictates make deer management an ever-ongoing process.

Over-populated deer pose three main hazards: the spread of Lyme and other tick-borne disease, deer-vehicle accidents, and the over-foraging of gardens and natural habitats.

 

Deer density has increased in state

The deer density in Connecticut has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.

Over this period, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) estimated the herd grew in Fairfield County from four-deer-per-square-mile to as much as 76-deer-per-square-mile before leveling off at the current level of around 42-deer-per-square-mile.

The reforestations of Connecticut as compared to our agricultural past, along with hunting regulations that actually protect deer for six-and-a-half months out of the year with stiff fines and jail time, have contributed to this perfect storm of destruction and disease.

 

Lyme disease a major problem in CT

The most compelling reason to reduce the local deer herd lies in statistics for Lyme disease and other 17 tick-borne illnesses including Babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the Powassin virus, etc.

Left untreated, these diseases can and do result in permanent physical disabilities and even death. In Connecticut, those numbers for Lyme alone are 2,000 to 3,000 reported cases annually (estimates are that 90% of all cases go unreported). And 96% of all Lyme occurs in 13 states, which includes Connecticut.

It is the sixth most reported disease in the United States and the second most reported in the Northeast.

By contrast, West Nile virus — which often arouses anxiety and a flurry of news coverage — affected 21 persons statewide last year.

 

Reducing the deer will reduce ticks

And although the reproductive cycle of the black-legged tick is complicated, involving several hosts, the state’s chief entomologist, Dr. Kirby Stafford, as well as the DEEP affirms that “Deer are the key to reproductive success of deer ticks.”

One of the very few things the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Department of Public Health, DEEP and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station all agree on is that reducing the numbers of this large mammalian host to around 10- to 12-per-square-mile will result in the collapse of the tick population along with the spread of Lyme.

 

Many car accidents due to deer

Deer vehicle accidents (DVA) are a road menace all year, but peak during the fall rut. Mid-October marks the beginning of this mating season with a peak from mid-November until mid-December.

Although largely underreported, some of the best statistics for DVAs come from State Farm Insurance with numbers in Connecticut averaging around 10,000 annually at an average cost of $3,305. Motor vehicle damage is only part of the story.

Nationally, DVAs number 1.5 million annually with a cost of around $1 billion and tragically resulting in 150 human fatalities.

 

Destroying the natural habitat

And, if disease and danger on the roads isn’t compelling enough, the loss of natural habitat for small animals including birds is a well-documented phenomena. Large animals need to eat, and eat they do. White-tailed deer consume one-and-a-half tons (3,000 pounds) of vegetation annually.

Damage to gardens and agriculture are annoying and expensive, but the over-browsing by the burgeoning herd is destroying the natural habitat needed for other species and most significantly for song birds statewide.

The state is losing native plants, shrubs and sapling trees needed for forest regeneration. The loss of the natural layered under-study of forests has resulted in declines of some native bird species by 73% to 99%.

 

A human responsibility

So, like it or not, controlling the disease and damage caused by the over-proliferation of deer becomes the responsibility of the human species. Scientists find that the only truly viable (and affordable) means of control is by regular culling of the deer.

While the most effective form of deer management remains professional sharp-shooting, few elected officials in Connecticut have demonstrated the willingness to move in this direction.

As a result, the traditional hunting season provides some opportunity to impact the herd.

 

Homeowners can be part of the solution

Homeowners can become part of the solution by contacting a licensed deer hunter and giving permission for bow hunting on their property. Hunting season opens Sept. 15 and continues until Jan. 31.

Lists are generally available through town halls, there is no cost to the homeowner, and the “free-range” meat is often donated to soup kitchens (state law currently forbids the sale of the meat).

Without pro-active management of the deer problem, residents of Fairfield County will continue to subject their children to the constant risk of tick-borne diseases every time they play outside.

You don’t have to live with Lyme disease. Be a part of the solution.

 

Laurie McGrath of Darien is on the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance. This commentary previously was posted on RidgefieldPress.com, another Hersam Acorn Newspaper website.

 

 

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