Oh, deer: Residents of East neighborhood complain of the animal’s increasing population

Micah Benson | Art Director

The rising deer population in Syracuse’s East neighborhood prompted a Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today meeting last Tuesday, drawing a crowd of about 200 at Nottingham High School.

TNT, a community group that addresses concerns for residents, businesses and organizations in Syracuse, established a committee to study the best methods to manage the deer population in residential neighborhoods east of Syracuse University, said Luke Dougherty, director of community engagement for the city of Syracuse.

More deer have been spotted trotting along Euclid Avenue, near Westcott Street and the Meadowbrook area in recent months, drawing the ire of some residents who fear an uptick in Lyme disease and claim that deer feed in neighborhood gardens.

The city of Syracuse and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation don’t currently have plans to help combat the increased deer presence, so the committee will likely turn to wildlife experts for advice, Dougherty said. Dave Kirby, a Meadowbrook resident and TNT facilitator, will coordinate the committee. Kirby could not be reached for comment.

“Word definitely got out and this is an issue people are taking seriously and are upset about one way or another,” Dougherty said, comparing the 200-person turnout to the usual 25-person attendance at most TNT meetings.

While the committee is only in its infant stages, Dougherty already foresees possible challenges. Most of the concern about the deer problem is concentrated in the East neighborhood, which could prove problematic if managing the deer population requires city funding.

“How do you convince the rest of the city that this is something they should be paying for?” Dougherty said.

But not directing resources to controlling the deer population could prove more costly down the line, said Brian Underwood, an adjunct associate professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Deer could potentially overrun residential streets, causing more auto collisions and confrontations with humans. Lyme disease could also strike with greater force, as deer often host the disease-carrying ticks, Underwood said.

“In 10 years, this could be a really big nightmare for the city of Syracuse,” he said.

Underwood, who has observed deer growth in the city for 25 years, said it is not uncommon to count 200 deer per square mile in suburban areas, such as Syracuse, compared to a 20-deer average in rural environments, where hunting is permitted.

While Underwood does not know the exact number of deer in the area, he has observed a definite rise through the years. Heavily treed and wooded areas surrounding Oakwood and St. Mary’s Cemeteries, among other green areas, provide deer with ample shelter and food for survival.

“All these beautiful gardens and green spaces that people have been promoting and developing in their backyards and in their communities have grown, have developed in such a way that it has made it a highly suitable habitat,” he said.

In order for deer to move from green spaces at one end of the city to another, they must cross directly through Meadowbrook and the East neighborhood, contributing to an increased presence in the area, Underwood said.

The increased vegetation compounded with mild Syracuse winters has improved the survival rates of deer. It is not uncommon to see four out of 10 fawn die during a normal winter season, said Stacy McNulty, associate director at the Adirondack Ecological Center.

“There’s only so much energy their body can store and, if the winter is a long winter, they’ll basically run out of energy,” she said. “They’ll starve.”

Aside from fencing deer out and purchasing deer-repellant spray to protect plants, there isn’t a foolproof way of keeping deer away, McNulty said.

Cities elsewhere have developed methods of containing the deer population. A Chicago suburb adopted sharp shooting in appropriate areas, she said.

But Dougherty, director of community engagement for the city of Syracuse, doesn’t believe hunting would be a viable option to reduce the deer population in a compacted cityscape like Syracuse.

Said Dougherty: “You certainly don’t want people walking down Euclid Ave. shooting guns or crossbows.”


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