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Deer May Be Cute, But They're Evildoers in the Garden
Jeff Lowenfels / Gardening / Anchorage Daily News / December 15, 2005

I sure hope last week's news story about the latest appearance of Sitka black-tailed deer in the Anchorage Bowl at least started gardeners talking about the problems to come. This is the third year in a row a sighting has been made. The latest was a buck at Lake Hood, having bypassed Kincaid Park, which would seem to be a better haunt.

While at a movie Sunday afternoon, I received an alert on the message machine from a friend who lives in Turnagain. "Jeff" she said, "I just wanted to tell you I saw the cutest little buck deer in the back yard just now."

Grateful for the report, I couldn't help note how smart that little buck must have been to find its way from Prince William Sound to Turnagain, one of the best places in the state to find ornamental landscaping. No fool, this buck -- it was headed for horticultural shrub land.

The second thing I noted was that this person -- a gardener from a long line of gardeners -- has a fruit-bearing apple tree in the center of her back yard that is so beloved, it was moved from its homestead origins. And she thought the buck was cute.

There's always the possibility my friend was just using her impish sense of humor, but the fact is the diminutive deer are cute, especially when we are so accustomed to less-than-cute moose.

Of course, the message continued, "it was out there eating anything it could find." I can only imagine. I grew up in deer country -- New York -- and we too used to marvel at the rare sightings. Today, they can shoot deer with bow and arrow 365 days a year, and homeowners hire archers to sit in their trees to deal with the problem. We never want it to get to that point here.

There are a few things to keep in mind during the debate that is sure to ensue as a result of more frequent sightings.

At the top of the list is that, unlike moose, deer eat anything. They are much less discerning than our moose. It may be moose have trouble bending, and that's why they don't eat roots. Not so with deer. Deer paw and gnaw. They eat things right down to the nubbins, but they don't stop there; they eat roots, bulbs and tubers. Nothing is sacred. Evergreens? Yes, deer eat evergreens too.

Second, deer in urban areas quickly learn not to be afraid. They have such a drive to eat that they ignore humans, dogs and cars. They jump fences. They travel in small groups, and they just don't care about anything other than eating.

Third, once they're established, we'll never be rid of them. Deer breed fast, and it takes a while for the predators -- wolves, which are a bit more wary of civilization -- to move in. Without predators, deer do very well. Why not, with all they have to eat?

And, because deer are cute, as in "Bambi," efforts to get rid of the first few to stem the tide are never taken. Deer multiply fast. We don't treat them like rats, which we do try to keep out of this community. I'm not sure which is worse.

Not even the threat of a serious disease can get folks concerned about deer. Deer, for example, carry Lyme disease, a worry we don't have here. Deer are just too cute.

So, let this be a call to the gardener and yardener in you -- to your senses and then to arms. The deer are coming, again, and we need to make sure we unite as gardeners and insist the federal, state and city governments work together to prevent the invasion while they can. This is no time to debate the start of a new ecological niche for these children of transplanted deer. Now is the time to act when we can do so humanely and carefully. Once people see baby deer, the fight will be much harder to win.

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