OH deer! Communities grapple with Ohio's largest herbivore
If you walk through Worthington’s Olentangy Park at dawn or dusk, you’ll almost certainly find bucks and does moving from the edge of the park into residential yards.
Henry Lara, who walks there with his dog, said he loves seeing them.
“But also, they're staying here on the roads. They do walk around the neighborhood. They're not really afraid of people,” he said.
Many Worthington residents have complained about the deer. They’re worried about Lyme disease from deer ticks, about the presence of large bucks around their children and dogs and about their gardens being eaten, according to the city’s 2021 deer management report.
In response, Worthington enacted a no feeding ordinance last year. Now, the city just outside Columbus is putting together a deer task force to address deer-human conflict.
Worthington is hardly the first Ohio community to find itself at odds with a thriving deer population. Ohio’s largest herbivore, the white tail deer, is thriving — especially in the suburbs, where coexisting with human residents sometimes leads to trouble.
Communities across the state are trying to reduce their number to keep herds, people, and the environment healthy.
In northeast Ohio, the city of Mentor has been managing deer populations for a decade. Mentor Natural Resource Director Joel Throckmorton said that in 2013, the city had almost 100 deer-vehicle collisions.
“It was becoming quite dangerous for motorists and for people,” he said.
The city now has a regulated program for residents who want to hunt deer and also uses targeted removal by trained sharpshooters to keep the population in check.
Throckmorton said the efforts have reduced collisions by almost 60%, evened out the ratio of male and female deer and restored native plants and bird habitats.
"Once you weigh in how much it positively affects the biological diversity, the safety of the community, the reduction of disease – it's really important, I think, for the city to have done this,” Throckmorton said.
Ohio's whitetail deer population multiplied 40 times over in about 50 years, according to an estimate from Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Deer have virtually no natural predators left in Ohio – except for coyotes, which mostly only prey on young fawns or scavenge already dead deer – and their birth rate far exceeds their death rate.
And deer like suburban communities for the same reasons we do: there’s beautiful landscaping, green space and storm water ponds — everything deer need to thrive, said Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager Gary Comer.
“I often hear, well, the deer were here first. We moved in and destroyed their habitat. And that's partially true,” Comer said. “But for the most part … we create, with our land use, perfect environments [for them].”
In Mahoning County, Mill Creek MetroParks wants to reduce its herd sizes because deer are over-browsing, said park Natural Resources Director Nick Derico.
“We have mature trees that are aging and will eventually die, and we have nothing, nothing regenerating behind them to replace them,” Derico said.
The park system used road and aerial infrared surveys and trail cameras — and found their deer density was about 19 times above recommended levels.
Many parkgoers, though, object to deer reduction plans. One MetroParks board meeting drew a rowdy crowd of around 200 who urged the board to “Save the Mill Creek Park deer.”
The park system wants to issue hunting permits for its rural properties and use trained sharpshooters in the main park. But the city of Youngstown, where much of the parklands are located, is opposed to shooting of any kind within city limits.
“Beyond that, the only other option is to do nothing,” Derico said.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland suburb of Euclid is supplementing traditional management with the surgical sterilization of female deer. That strategy, however, is considered experimental and hasn't been approved by ODNR for wider use.
And, while environmental health remains a factor in deer management, ODNR’s Comer said sometimes, it’s more about how many animals people can tolerate.
“I often say you don't have a deer problem; you have a human problem,” Comer said.