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The White-Tailed Deer Problem in New Jersey

Ecological Damage

The Ecological Damage Caused by Deer Overpopulation

We are called the Garden State for a reason: New Jersey is among the most ecologically beautiful and diverse states in the nation.

But an overpopulation of white-tailed deer is a threat and danger to New Jersey’s environment.

According to a paper authored by Jay F. Kelly, Ph.D. of Raritan Valley Community College’s Center for Environmental Studies, populations of white-tailed deer, which have no natural predators, have risen to historically unprecedented levels in some areas. The resulting increase in deer browsing (feeding) has impacted forest vegetation, including trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and seed banks.

This impact to vegetation has a cascading effect, impacting shrub- and ground-nesting birds, insects, and small mammals as well as soils and nutrient flows. Selective browsing of deer of certain plants over others leads to a loss of diversity and an increase in non-native plant species, further impacting the ecosystem. According to an online Fact Sheet from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, New Jersey’s out-of-balance density of deer not only negatively impacts forest health and ecosystem balance, it also negatively impacts the health of the deer populations. 

In March 2005, the New Jersey Audubon Society published a policy white paper: “Forest Health and Ecological Integrity Stressors and Solutions.” The paper points out that while residents may react positively to seeing deer in suburban areas, elevated deer populations lead to an overall degradration of ecosystem health. In addition to a lack of natural predators, suburban settings lessen the possibility of winter food shortages that typically play a natural role in controlling deer populations. According to the paper’s authors, elevated deer densities have a devastating impact on forests and forest regeneration. The impact of browsing deer on natural ecosystems is so great that they have been classified as a keystone herbivore, capable of driving long-term vegetative changes.

Deer density can also have a detrimental effect on wildlife. In heavily deer-browsed areas, birds’ efforts to reproduce and flourish may be futile. The young fledglings lack adequate cover close to the nest site, resulting in a greater predation risk as they move longer distances seeking cover and food. The paper states: “Young birds in a heavily browsed forest are doomed.”

Keep Reading to Learn More:

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Human Health Effects

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Agricultural Damage

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Ecological Damage

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Hunting

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Political Positions

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Lessons Learned

The New Jersey Farm Bureau, and the agricultural interests we represent, understand that people will have different ideas about the approach to this problem. But ultimately, we must identify immediate and viable solutions to mitigate the negative impact to agriculture, the environment, and human health caused by deer overpopulation.