Virginia’s Deer Population: Valuable Resource or Dangerous Pest?

DoeThanks to popular movies like Disney’s “Bambi,” deer hold a special place in many peoples’ hearts. They’re seen as cute and lovable forest creatures that make the forest and woods that are found across Virginia a special place to visit. But not all people think that way. To some, deer are thought of as pests, especially when growing herds push deer into communities where they eat plants around homes, ruin gardens, and even cause traffic accidents. In recent years, the deer population in Virginia has gotten so large that state and local officials have taken steps to allow citizens to help maintain the population. In Martinsville, citizens are allowed to hunt deer within the city limits during deer season, but only with bows and arrows.

Since first colonizing the area, the relationship between humans and deer has fluctuated. When the first colonists arrived in Virginia, they probably thought they had truly found a land of plenty, especially where deer were concerned. Scientists and historians estimate there may have been more than 800,000 deer in the area that later became the Commonwealth of Virginia back when the first European settlers established Jamestown and other settlements.

But those deer populations didn’t stay so large. The deer were useful resources, especially as a food source, but there were other uses for deer, such as using their hides for buckskin and other leather products; their bones and antlers were used for tools, buttons, and beads; and even sinew from deer was used to create strings and thread. Around 100 years ago, the population of deer in Virginia had gotten so small, they could no longer be found in every county. They were on the verge of extinction in our state. In the 1900s, state officials actually brought in deer from other states to repopulate Virginia’s deer herds.

DeerRepopulating has worked really well—for the deer. Their numbers are now larger than when the first colonists arrived, but there are a lot more people in Virginia, too. In order to help keep the deer herd under control state and local officials try different strategies, with one of the most controversial being increased opportunities for hunting. Throughout Virginia, different communities have allowed hunters to hunt deer on more days and in more places, including in city boundaries, like Martinsville. Hunting in the city of Martinsville has helped reduce the local deer population but obviously holds some dangers for citizens. There are other strategies communities have tried, including sterilizing female deer so they can add to the population as well as organized deer farming. All of the strategies have pros and cons. What’s the best solution to curb the deer population?

Directions: The Martinsville City Council annually reviews legislation and policies surrounding deer control. Your job is to use the documents provided to write a letter or essay to the city council to encourage them to either 1) keep the laws that allow hunters to hunt deer in the city boundaries, either as is or with modifications, or 2) propose a different solution to curb the deer. You need to use evidence from the documents to support your position. Your opinion isn’t enough. In your solution, make suggestions as to how your solution will impact your community, the deer, and other plants and animals in the area over time. Remember, the deer population almost disappeared in Virginia, but human actions countered that decline—maybe too well. What do you think?

Write a letter or essay to the Martinsville City Council describing your solution for curbing the deer population and any long-term impact you think your solution might have.


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