Start with the little things for deer

By Steve Estes

Over the next six to eight months, local conservation groups, county staff and staff from the National Key Deer Refuge will be meeting several times to discuss future management strategies for the further recovery of the endangered Key Deer.

Human hunting, with some help from Mother Nature, in the 1950s had dwindled the size of the Key Deer herd to less than 50 animals and their continued survival was in question.

In 1957, the Key Deer Refuge was formed, hunting was banned, and the herd slowly began to recover.

About 15 years ago, refuge consultants put the number of Key Deer on Big Pine and No Name Key at about 750.

Though refuge managers and officials have never moved off that number in the years since, the significant increases in deer deaths by vehicle collisions over the last five or six years tells most of us that the size of the herd is increasing, forcing the deer to roam further for forage, and forcing the younger bucks to stray further from birth grounds to find their own territorial niche.

Yet with less forage area, the herd appears, at least anecdotal, to be growing in size.

And of course, in many areas,the deer are getting even more tame than they have been in the past due to feeding by humans. They have lost much of the fear of man that helped keep them alive, now relating human vehicles to sources of food treats.

So they wander onto the highways and roadways seeking treats from the humans in the cars and wind up getting nailed by a flying piece of Detroit iron.

As any one who lives or works on Big Pine is aware, the deer also love to feast in human trash cans.

Human feeding is one of the primary reasons for the growing herd despite less natural forage area and is one of the issues that herd managers, the county and conservation groups must tackle immediately.

There may be one quite simple, yet often overlooked, reason why more deer are getting hit at certain locations along Overseas Highway.

The biggest kill zones for Key Deer by cars are to the west of the deer fences by the curve at St. Peter Church, the area out in front of the CVS/Walgreens commercial complex, and the area in front of Strike Zone Charters on the island’s west end.

There are heavily wooded areas near each of those locations,but all of those locations also share one other attribute. They are all within a short run of a near-permanent source of human food for deer used to such treats.

Each of those locations is near, or across the street, from a transit bus stop.

This may seem a little far afield, but for those, like us, who work some odd hours and quite often travel at night along the highway in Big Pine, the sight of a deer bolting across the highway to make a beeline for the bus stop isn’t all that unusual.

At each bus stop is a trash can to allow the riders to dispose of their refuse before they board or after they disembark the bus.

That’s like a confined smorgasbord for our new breed of deer. They have come to equate trash cans with a plentiful supply of human food. They go for it.

The bus stops aren’t right on the highway, but in most cases a deer must travel on the highway at some point to reach one of the deer fast-food joints.

And they place their lives in the hands of some human, some human who may or may not be paying close attention while behind the wheel, who may or may not be texting or reading emails while behind the wheel, who may or may not be sober.

There is a simple solution to this potential issue.

Herd managers, county staff and the conservation groups working on an updated management plan for the recovery of the deer must simply require that the agency responsible for placing those trash cans in harm’s way for the deer either make them permanent mounts with concrete or such, or corral them with something that the deer can’t tip over or climb over.

Both of those solutions require a little bit of ingenuity to complete because we don’t advocate that the safety of humans take a back seat, and smacking into a concreted trash can, or a hard-corral trash can enclosure, can be dangerous to a human in a vehicle, but this is one simple step to eliminate what might be a potential problem.

If it doesn’t aid in reducing the number of deer kills on Overseas Highway, then there wasn’t a problem to begin with.

But for such an easy fix, perhaps we can at least give something like this a try.]

The deer we save may well be one that you have befriended.

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