To protect native plants and animals, we must actively manage these human-influenced parcels. Humans are already a key element in the ecological equation that governs these properties. Furthermore, humans have been key predators of deer for thousands of years. An unrestricted deer population is a powerful disruptive force in Weston’s forests, wetlands, and fields. In this case, proper management of conservation land requires human intervention to protect and preserve diversity of both flora and fauna. A hands-off approach would allow deer to continue to threaten many native species.
All the evidence the Conservation Commission has received from long-time residents indicates that 30 years ago there were few deer in Weston, whereas today there are many. There’s no way to know the exact deer population of Weston; however, the evidence gathered is consistent with Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates for our region, which is about 25 deer/square mile. The state and the Commission’s goal is to obtain a population of 8 deer per square mile.
While most residents enjoy having some deer in Weston, 72% of those who responded to the Conservation Commission Deer Impact online survey felt that the deer population had reached a level that should be controlled. The negative impacts caused by deer include:
- Damage to yards and crops. 72% of respondents reported yard damage, and farms such as Land’s Sake have spent at great expense to fence crops against deer for the past 15 years, with mixed success and significant crop losses.
- Damage to forest ecosystems. Our preliminary surveys of Weston’s forests have revealed excessive deer browse in many areas, resulting in declines in several species of wildflowers and shrubs, and declining regeneration of some trees, particularly maple and oak.
- Vehicle collisions. On average, 25 deer/car collisions are reported annually to the Weston Police Department. Such collisions cause damage to vehicles and are usually fatal to deer, and can also cause injuries and (rarely) fatalities for drivers and passengers.
- Lyme disease. The number of cases of Lyme disease, along with other tick-borne illnesses, has been increasing in Weston and in surrounding towns among both people and pets. Over 40% of survey respondents reported that they or someone in their family had contracted Lyme disease. Lyme disease is part of a complex relationship involving the life cycle of deer ticks and several different animal hosts. Deer do not carry the disease (the major reservoir of the disease is field mice); however, deer play a critical role in supporting large populations of adult deer ticks and spreading them throughout the landscape. While there is scientific debate about how low the deer population must be driven to have a beneficial effect on the deer tick population, several studies have indicated that if it can be reduced below 10 deer/square mile, tick population and Lyme disease rates decline.
Back to the Deer Management Program