Warm weather contributes to Hanover's deer problem

by Katie Rafter | 1/13/16 8:23pm


With the warmer temperatures and lack of snow this winter, Hanover residents have been saying “oh, deer.”

Higher temperatures have kept deer in the area active longer, as more fall-like weather continued into the end of 2015. Hanover town officials are currently waiting to determine to what extent new hunting regulations addressed the problem of an increasing deer population in the Upper Valley over the past few years.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said that while there has always been a number of deer in the rural areas of Hanover, the deer problem has gotten worse in the in-town areas over the last few years.

Barbara McIlroy, a member of the Hanover Conservation Commission’s biodiversity committee, echoed this sentiment. She said that increasing deer markers have been found more than six miles from the center of town.

McIlroy said the Hanover Conservation Comission held a well-attended meeting in September 2014 about deer management and forest health, with outside experts invited to speak.

“The most basic takeaway is that we need help from hunters, and they need to be taking doe in order to bring the deer population down to a reasonable level,” she said.

Griffin said the town is working together with New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the College to open large tracts of land near downtown Hanover that are owned by Dartmouth and the town to hunters, increasing their access to the deer population.

“Those are areas of land that were previously posted no hunting, but in the last three years we opened them up to hunters,” she said.

During the hunting season, Griffin said Hanover hunters increased their deer intake from around 85 to 90 deer taken in 2013 to over 145 in 2014. She added that the town is still waiting for New Hampshire Fish and Game to publish the numbers for 2015, after hunting season ended in the middle of December.

The unofficial numbers for 2015 show a four percent decrease in the number of deer taken in New Hampshire compared to 2014. The total dropped from 11,396 in 2014 to 10,912 in 2015. The total deer count in New Hampshire stands around 85,000.

Griffin said while the high number of deer poses problems all year, the issues are especially prominent during the spring and summer when deer eat residents’ plants and have access to more areas.

“When things are blooming, they’re busy munching,” she said.

Griffin said in the winter the deer tend to settle down in “deer yards” where they are most comfortable. With the increase in deer, she said, these “deer yards” are increasingly the backyards of peoples’ homes in downtown neighborhoods recently.

Griffin said that the majority of Hanover residents support the approach to allow more hunting. There is, however, a small minority who oppose hunting in general. She noted that the majority of the town supports expanded hunting because of ongoing struggles with the deer population in the area.

McIlroy said after their 2014 meeting, it seemed that both the public and hunters understand that the deer population is beyond where it should be.

“The challenge is to locate hunters willing to concentrate on taking doe, find land owners who will welcome hunting and find some way to ease up on state rules about taking doe,” she said.

There are currently strict regulations on hunting doe in New Hampshire, McIlroy said. There are only three days at the beginning of the season to hunt doe, after which firearm hunters can only hunt bucks.

Town officials attribute the increasing risk of Lyme disease in the area to the increasing number of deer.

McIlroy said that New Hampshire is one of the states with the highest rates for Lyme disease per 100,000 people according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of the black-legged tick, commonly referred to as the deer tick, because deer are their main reproductive host.

Biologist for Mosquito Squad, a company specializing in mosquito and tick control, Eugene Murphy said that an increase in deer can be linked with an increase in occurrences of Lyme disease.

“They are the primary carrier,” he said. “After the juvenile tick latches on [to the deer], contracts the disease and moves on to the final stages, they are able to attach to a human.”

Murphy said if there is an overpopulation of deer, there will be less resources for deer in terms of water and food, which is when they start coming into more contact with humans.

“They are seeking out more room and more resources than are available in their habitats,” he said.

Murphy said the risk comes from humans not taking precautions to prevent ticks when they are in residential areas, because they do not see the need.

“When you go hiking or do outdoor activities, typically humans take necessary precautions like tucking their pants into their socks, and wearing long sleeves, but when people are at home and more deer are around, that’s when the risk increases,” he said.