Colgate students study local deer population and provide management ideas

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Colgate students studied the local population of white-tailed deer and the impact it has on area residents.Colgate students studied the local population of white-tail deer and the impact it has on area residents.

Colgate students studied the local population of white-tailed deer and the impact it has on area residents.  (Photo by Charles Lichtenauer ’14)

Colgate student researchers met with community members recently to discuss a problem that affects not only the town and village of Hamilton, but the entire nation — the overpopulation of white-tailed deer.

The students presented their findings from a semester-long research project that was an integral part of the Community-based Study of Environmental Issues course they are taking with Assistant Professor of Biology Catherine Cardelus.

The students spoke to an audience of area residents and local officials who gathered December 4 at Hamilton Central School. The presentation then opened to a student-facilitated discussion about solutions to the issue of deer overpopulation.

The students found a definite overabundance of deer in Hamilton, about four times the size of a healthy population, and their findings indicated an increase in negative interactions between humans and deer. They collected data through on-site observations, local phone and online surveys, and by looking at communities across the nation facing similar issues.

The students found that some of these negative interactions include agricultural loss, lack of forest regeneration, higher incidence of Lyme disease in humans, and frequent roadside accidents.

“We also wanted to determine what the local population thinks about deer in Hamilton, based on their previous experiences with deer,” said Arielle Sperling ‘14.

Cardelus said, “When we surveyed people, both in the town and village, overwhelmingly they agreed it was a problem. Seventy-three percent said they think the deer population should be reduced and 89 percent said they had a negative interaction with deer within the past 10 years.”

Sperling, along with her classmates Mabel Baez ’15, Christa Fagliarone ’14, Nicole Halper ’14, Evan Heby ’14, Grace Hilling ’15, Kelsey Jensen ’14, Emilyann Keller ’15, Charles Lichtenauer ’14, Mary Helen McGee ’14, and Alexandra Shapiro ’15, suggested several methods for reducing the deer population in the community.

They recommended management efforts ranging from the revitalization of a Citizens Task Force (CTF) that sets deer population goals, to working with the Department of Environmental Conservation to provide more antlerless deer tags for hunters, to a culling approach that would involve trained marksmen working in approved areas and under strict safety guidelines.

“It is rewarding for us to give back to the town of Hamilton in this way as a form of activism for the local community,” said Sperling.

The students said they hope their academic research can be used as a first step for local officials to determine the appropriate course of action in a way that involves the entire community. Cardelus said the findings of the class will be posted on the website for the Upstate Institute for future reference.