'Bambi' Is In The 'Burbs
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, President Obama is putting some money where his roots are, in community organizing. He just signed the multi-billion-dollar National Service Act into law to encourage community service, but is paying people to serve key in the active service? We'll talk about that in just a few minutes.
But first, we're going to dip into the pages of the Washington Post magazine. It's something we do just about every week to find interesting stories about the way we live now.
This week, the Post takes on a subject that is sure to get the conversation going in a neighborhood get-together, that is if you live in a suburban or even urban neighborhood with enough green space to host deer, yes deer.
If you think you're seeing more critters about and more of them eating your expensive landscaping, you are not crazy, and you are not alone. After nearing extinction in North America earlier this century, the deer population is actually exploding in many places, and that is putting them and humans on a collision that is not always turning out well for either side.
Washington Post Magazine writer Liza Mundy investigated the deer boom. She's here with me in our studio to talk about it. Now Liza, we've heard from you before on some issues like the complexity of assisted reproductive technologies. You've written about the first lady, Michelle Obama. So I have to ask: Why deer?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LIZA MUNDY (Writer, Washington Post Magazine): Well, I've always been interested, actually, in science and the natural sciences, and you know, and the way that we live now. This story originated, actually my editor lives in Vienna, which is a suburb of D.C., as people know, and the yards there are pretty big, and he has a herd of deer that is often camped out in his side yard when he gets home from work and started, you know, wondering where they lived, exactly.
You know, what are their secret lives when they leave his yard and stop his hosta or day lilies? And the minute he said that in the office - I live in Arlington, which is a very close-in, practically urban neighborhood. We didn't have deer 20 years ago, but we do now, and so I - there are a number of species of wildlife that actually find urban and suburban environments very conducive, and deer are certainly one of them.
We have created really in some ways the ideal habitat for these animals that we think of as wild creatures.
MARTIN: Well, give me a sense just of how much the deer population has grown just in the Washington metropolitan area in recent years?
Ms. MUNDY: Right, well for example in Rock Creek Park, which didn't use to have - 40 or 50 years ago, they think that it probably didn't have any deer, and now it has about - they think about 250. Deer are hard to count.
In Maryland, the population has almost doubled in 20 years. They think there were about maybe 135,000 20 years ago, and there are more than - there are now about 230,000.
MARTIN: And why is it? Is it the lack of natural predators? You know, the coyotes are gone. Why is that?
Ms. MUNDY: Yes, it's a lack of predators, and it's also the fact that we have created these fabulous suburban environments for them because deer are edge creatures. They can live in a lot of different habitats, but the center of a forest is not great for them.
They like the edge of a forest, where there's sunlight and a lot of vegetations, and they can ventures out to browse in pasture land, and that is what suburbs and exurbs are. They are edges with thickets and, you know, and lawns with tasty landscaping and green spaces, as you say.
And also these - you know, many exurbs used to be rural areas, and people would hunt there, but now we have sort of five-acre lots, and they're not big enough to be hunted, and suburban- and exurbanites often aren't comfortable with hunting or at least don't hunt themselves. So it's you know, we've created these great habitats that happen generally to be non-huntable.
MARTIN: And one point you make in the piece is that, you know, we love Bambi. You know, we love seeing Bambi. Everybody's excited to see Bambi. On the other hand, one thing that the suburbs definitely have are cars and that there were some - almost 250,000 crashes involving deer on the roadways in something like 2005 when this number was last sort of counted, and then as deer become very dense, they denude new growth.
So what is to be done that, as you pointed out, a lot of communities are very uncomfortable with the idea of even managed hunting, and yet people don't want them, you know, Bambi munching on their hostas. So what is to be done?
Ms. MUNDY: It's a hard situation, and you know, a lot of people who are employed by county governments and state governments to take care of the habitat, you know, they are fond of these animals, but they also see what's happening to the habitat and to the ecosystem, and that creates - there are some environmental organizations like the Sierra Club that, you know, are very aware of what deer are doing to the natural habitat.
And so you, know, even people whose job is to care about the landscape, they care about the deer but they are worrying, increasingly, about the landscape. And it's hard to know - there's not a good contraceptive yet, that works reliably. The government is working to develop some because does, actually, are really the issue here. And another problem with hunting is that traditionally hunters have hunted bucks, but in fact…
MARTIN: Because they like the antlers.
Ms. MUNDY: Yes exactly. I mean, that's the big trophy. But in fact, you know, does generally bear twins, and when they are really well fed, they can bear triplets. And so they can exponentially increase the population quite quickly. And it's very hard for people to know what to do. But, you know, contraception, culling and planting - planting things they don't like to eat.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Which is what (unintelligible)?
Ms. MUNDY: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
MARTIN: Liza Mundy is a writer for the Washington Post Magazine. She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington studio. To check out her cover story called "Deerzilla" you can go to our Web site the TELL ME MORE page of npr.org. The photos are well worth checking out. Also, Liza, thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. MUNDY: Thanks for having me.