As the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs, Brooklyn is known for a lot of things – for its culturally and ethnically diverse communities, for its historic row houses and massive housing projects, and for its amazing mural paintings and street art. But it’s deer population? Eh, not so much. With nearly 2.6 million residents on some 71 square miles of land, it’s safe to say Brooklyn is more of a people place.
Are White-Tailed Deer Welcome in Brooklyn?
In short, not really. Now that doesn’t mean a white-tailed deer or two (the most common type in the State of New York) don’t show up in Brooklyn once in a blue moon. But when they do, they usually cause a stir. For example, in October of 2011, the borough received a 911 call reporting two deer near the base of the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects with neighboring Staten Island. NYPD promptly sent in the cavalry, or rather a few harbor launches were dispatched to corral them. Both were captured and transported to Great Kills Park in Staten Island. Neither was harmed, although one of the two was found to have had his rear legs bound with twine. That’s the problem with human beings. Some of them aren’t very nice.
Earlier that day another deer was captured in the same area. This third deer had been reportedly seen in the northern Bronx, in Queens, and in upper Manhattan. Was it taking a tour of all the NYC boroughs? No one can say with certainty. Unfortunately, after swimming across from Staten Island, the deer got caught in the rails of the waterfront fence severely injuring itself in its thwarted efforts to get free. The police cut the deer loose, but too much damage had already been done. Sadly, it had to be euthanized.
Nine years later in September of 2020, a white-tailed buck was found running about in Brooklyn. Police were able to sedate it and trek this one as well back to Staten Island.
Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself the following question.
Are White-Tailed Deer Welcome in Staten Island?
Again, the answer isn’t favorable. The only reason the deer in the examples above was brought to Staten Island is that the deer probably swam over from Staten Island. White-tailed deer have come to enjoy the green spaces in this smaller borough, and their overabundant populations have become a serious concern in recent years. The City of New York is, however, doing something about it. More about that later.
It should be noted that it’s not that New York City folks don’t find deer attractive. It’s simply that they don’t fit well in urban environments. A tendency to the artificial is much more suitable to city living – which is why electric fireplaces make so much sense in Brooklyn apartments.
White-tailed deer are large mammals. How large? Wikipedia measures adults at about 6 to 7-1/2 feet on average and 110 to 300 pounds. They also have a few practices that don’t always sit well with their human counterparts.
And these things can pose problems.
What Kinds of Problems Are Caused by Overabundant Deer Populations?
As mentioned previously, deer are large mammals. Have you ever seen a yellow sign along the road cautioning that you might encounter deer? It’s not at all uncommon for white-tailed deer to run into or in front of cars and trucks causing serious injuries and property damage. And while deer can cause motor vehicle collisions any time of the year, the behavior of males becomes more aggressive and erratic during their rut, the fall mating season.
Deer are also herbivores, and while one might think that’s a good thing–after all, they’re not going to attack us and eat us!–they will eat pretty much anything if they are hungry enough. Thus, an overabundance of deer in an area can be destructive to urban forests and the food chain of other native wildlife. They can also do a serious number of landscaping and flower and vegetable gardens.
Then there’s the unpleasant matter of ticks and tick-borne illnesses. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States, and while white-tailed deer cannot transmit the disease, they can carry infected ticks to various other areas.
Now Here’s the Kicker
White-tailed deer are highly adaptable and enjoy a wide range of habitats, including woodlands, forest edges, meadows, and urban greenspaces. Their range tends to be fairly small, about one square mile. At the same time, with the clearing of many forested areas in the United States, a significant number of their former predators that require greater ranges have been reduced. This has allowed deer populations to grow out of control. More and more they are encroaching on human habitats. And it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere soon.
Over the years, herds of white-tailed deer have become established in both Staten Island and the Bronx, with, as was noted previously, a few occasionally trickling over into New York City’s other populous boroughs. In 2016 the City of New York took steps to get these populations under control.
New York City’s Efforts to Coexist
In 2016 the City of New York launched the multi-pronged Integrated Deer Impact Management Plan in an effort to address deer problems on Staten Island.
In September of that same year and as part of the plan, the City contracted with the non-profit White Buffalo Company to capture and sterilize male deer, tag, radio-collar, and release them. The program has not been without controversy due to the cost of the program and other groups favoring a program of controlled culling. The program was halted in July of 2020 due to budget cuts and later resumed.
The 2016 plan also included driver awareness efforts to reduce motor vehicle collisions with deer as well as a study of the efficacy of two tick control products. Equally important, the City embarked on an aggressive public education program to help people coexist with white-tailed deer and reduce negative interactions. This included simple tips such as making people aware that they should not feed white-tailed deer as it increases their nuisance behavior. The practice is also illegal.
Five years later, according to the February 2021 report Managing Deer Impacts on Staten Island issued by the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation Wildlife Unit, the program has resulted in a 24 percent decrease in the white-tailed deer population on Staten Island. The report also points to downward trends in motor vehicle collisions and a decrease in newly reported Lyme Disease cases.
With a little luck, these efforts will keep the deer in Brooklyn to a minimum.