Thursday, December 22, 2016

Deer Populations. Lyme Disease and Daylilies!

Please note: A recent posting to two email listservs related to daylilies discussed a deer that was dispatched inside a person's home.  It was graphic and disturbed some people but it described what could and I guess actually happened.

Here are my thoughts about the deer population which is rising in Vermont. I enjoy gardening and grow and sell thousands of daylilies each year. Read on and share your thoughts.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Deer Populations, Lyme Disease & Daylilies!

Vermont has one of the most serious rates of Lyme Disease in the Lower 48. Some accounts say we have the worst problem but of course we only have 625,000 people in the entire state.  All the states have some incidence of Lyme but we have a big problem for a number of reasons. Hunting is no longer a favorite sport and although Fish and Wildlife do their best to control the herd,  too many deer exist, especially in the less rural areas. I once went to a deer management meeting and was late.  When I approached the Capital there were five deer on the front lawn eating a crab apple tree. I walked by them and they kept eating. Not good. I had an opportunity to vividly point out an example of our problem. Montpelier, Vermont is our capital city and it has the highest deer count per square mile of any town in the state.

The Lyme Disease issue is serious and really bothers me. The disease involves the life cycle of ticks and it includes the white tail deer and the white footed deer mouse. Deer in closer proximity to each other have more ticks and spread the disease more. There is no easy cure for the disease after it is established in a person,  and even establishing that you have contracted it is very difficult early on. The disease mimics lupus, MS and some other diseases and is just plain bad. Each year I meet dozens of people at the flower farm from other states and it seems odd that they get out of the car and ask “Do you have ticks?” and then go on to explain that they have already been treated 2-3 times or are currently being treated.

Other influencing factors include the fact that Vermont is first in the east for second homes. A large proportion of homes are owned by non-residents and many of these post their land against hunting. We have a terrible drug problem here so people post their properties in hopes that break ins and robberies will be less--it doesn't work but it does keep hunters away from land they probably used to hunt. Similarly, the state has experienced a very high amount of forest clear cutting which for 3-4 years takes habitat out of use. The resulting forage is good for the deer but in the interim the cutting disrupts habitat and forces deer to change their patterns of residence and travel for some time. That forces deer into and close to residential areas and gardeners like us see the impact as our daylilies and other favorites are eaten.

As you travel Vermont now, the Green Mountain State has more and more solar farms as opposed to dairy farms every week. It is astonishing. Active dairy farms numbered 12,000 before WW II, 10,000 after the war, and under 1000 now. Wow!10-12 small farms go out of business each month. The related solar farm issue is an entirely different debate but relative to deer, the farms have the same impact on them as clear cutting--they push deer into new areas where food is easier to come by.

Finally, there is the wild turkey population. Turkeys were reintroduced to Vermont in the late 70s and they have made a successful comeback. The population is now out of control and they are everywhere in huge numbers. Farmers hate them because they contaminate food supplies like corn and grasses that are stored in bunker silos that the turkeys feed at and contaminate daily.  Currently we have 22 wild turkeys that come to our bird feeders daily. They are not my friends either. They do eat ticks, they do carry some ticks, and they mess up the gardens.

Deer must be controlled but it is not easy. If you do nothing after reading my comments but mutter, learn about Lyme Disease and ticks. If you disagree with me, comment on your points. I welcome discussion. I also love daylilies and grow and sell enough each year to know that others like them too!

Be well.
Merry Christmas!

George Africa

Marshfield Vermont

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