Fear the deer | Guest Column

by Emery Rhodes

Orcas Island

Deer. They are here, there and everywhere. Day and night these normally nocturnal animals are now out searching for anything tasty and tender. After dusk their numbers increase; they veritably turn the San Juan Islands into Deer Zombie Islands – wreaking havoc and occasionally attacking innocent vehicles. We see many more young deer on the roads mid-day.

We have a deer problem. To paraphrase the late great naturalist/writer, Aldo Leopold: “Every mountain lives in fear of its deer herd and every deer herd lives in fear of its wolf pack.” He was talking about the balance of nature. The islands are the “mountain” and we humans are the “wolf pack.” Today the wolf pack doesn’t have much appetite or many teeth and we are witnessing the consequences of the imbalance of nature. Deer are denuding these beautiful islands. Everywhere there is a browse line of munched trees and shrubbery and little undergrowth. There are no young alder, cedar, fir, madrone, maple or oak growing anywhere unless they are inside a six-foot fence. On other islands such as Waldron, Matia and Sinclair where deer have been eliminated or kept in check, one sees a diversity of plant life that is no longer found on most of the islands.

So what? – one might ask. For starters, deer themselves are suffering as they diminish the natural fabric of the native environment. We see mature deer with white splotches in their coats and they are smaller than their mainland cousins; these are signs of a weakened gene pool. They are now eating food they would normally not eat at all or only when left with nothing else; this is due to dietary stress. They are starving.

Diminished habitat leads to fewer animals, insects and birds. Science bears this out.

Another consequence is the increase in land that is surrounded by wire fences. The fences are unsightly and visually disruptive to the sense of open space and natural beauty that the islands are noted for. I myself am guilty; I have spent a lot of money and man hours erecting fences to protect my property from this gentle-eyed menace.

What is the solution? A cull, an open season, a bounty, a venison jerky Co-op? I believe it is the states responsibility to manage the deer and establish appropriate hunting laws and seasons to maintain a healthy balance. Clearly, this is not happening. It is time for us to all share views with our county and state representatives to protect the islands from this unlikely contributor to environmental degradation. As the “wolf pack” it is up to us to restore the natural balance.

Emery Rhodes lives on Orcas and co-owns a farm on Nordstrom Lane.