Deer Decline in Western U. S. as Drought Continues

Deer in Arizona

Mule Deer Mother and Daughter at Coldwater Farm (Garry Rogers April, 2014)

Mule Deer Mother and Daughter at Coldwater Farm (Garry Rogers April, 2014)

The Arizona deer “harvest” is declining as the drought deepens.  Though the Arizona Game and Fish Department now places no limits on the number of deer hunting licenses sold, the number of deer that hunters kill is shrinking as the deer population shrinks.

Last year, wildlife managers warned that deer would start showing up in towns where there are irrigated lawns and gardens.  That certainly was true for Coldwater Farm where the first repeated deer visit occurred and a fawn was born.  More deer are coming to the Farm this year, and we are expecting more births.

The deer are coming for water and to eat our flowers, vegetables, and weeds.  We are delighted, and would rather see deer than tomatoes.  If necessary, we can fence our garden. There are two problems:  1) we do not want to spoil the deer ability to live in the forest when the drought fades (if it does).   2) Some of our neighbors prefer tomatoes over deer and may call Animal Control (Wildlife Services?) to remove the deer.

Problem 1) is insignificant.  Because of local geology, the river has carried surface water through the site of Coldwater Farm for tens of thousands of years.  Deer have probably come for the water and riparian vegetation many times in the past and returned to the chaparral and forest when rains returned.

Problem 2) is more significant.  Already two neighbors report “shooing” deer from their garden.  Climate forecasts predict that our drought will continue for many years.  Deer could join the smaller mammals to become a permanent part of our small town biosphere.  How long before Humans demand that the deer are removed?  What will I have to do to protect their right to water and food?

Deer in Colorado

“The number of deer in Colorado and other parts of the West is rapidly declining, including a 36 percent drop among mule deer in the Centennial State from 2005 through last year, and a reported drop of at least 10 percent throughout the region.

“Brutal winters followed by extremely dry summers, loss of habitat due to commercial and residential development and predators like coyotes and mountain lions are factors in the decline, Matt Robbins, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told FoxNews.com.

“It’s a culmination of things,” Robbins said. “Weather has absolutely been a factor; we’ve had very harsh winters and then very dry summers, and we’re always very conscious of chronic wasting disease, loss of habitat, highway mortalities, predators and oil and gas development.”

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