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City of Bloomington, Indiana

The Joint City of Bloomington-Monroe County Deer Task Force was formed in response to residents' concerns about deer in urban and suburban areas and at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve. The Task Force was charged with developing recommendations to mitigate issues of human-deer interaction, the ecological impact of deer and to engage in public education. The group submitted its report in December 2012 and has now sunset.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why are deer in the City?

It wasn't that long ago that deer were actually entirely absent from the State of Indiana. Due to hunting and habitat destruction, the last reported deer was seen in 1893 and Indiana remained "deer free" until deer were reintroduced in 1934. Since that time, deer numbers have not only rebounded, but flourished. This is due to a number of factors, including human encroachment on the natural environment, intentional feeding of deer and the elimination of virtually all non-human predators. Oftentimes, suburban environments tend to provide ideal shelter and food. Indeed, due to the use of fertilizers, plants in suburban yards are often more nutrient-rich than food found in the forest.

Isn't wildlife management the jurisdiction of the State of Indiana?

Yes. According to the Indiana Code, wild animals belong to the people of Indiana. By statute, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is charged with protecting and managing Indiana wildlife on behalf of the people (I.C. §14-22-1-1). This means that any proposal to care for, manage or otherwise regulate deer on public or private property must first be approved by IDNR. IDNR biologists are here to provide technical assistance. IDNR has made clear that the decision about how to best address community deer must come from the community.

What is the Task Force proposing to do about urban deer?

Starting out, the Task Force had no preconceived notion of which approach was best. The Task Force commenced its work in late September 2010 and in the course of its work, a few things have become very clear. First, there is no simple fix. Secondly, residents have very different opinions about the presence of deer - some view increased interaction between deer and humans as favorable; others view it as problematic. Our job has been to listen to everyone's concerns and come up with responsible recommendations that suit the unique needs of our community.

Are deer overpopulated in the City?

While the Indiana Department of Natural Resources does not engage in an annual deer census, biologists advise that deer are not starving in Bloomington -- deer have not reached biological carrying capacity. Indeed, urban and suburban environments often provide ideal habitats for deer by providing ample food, water and cover. So it is likely that the local urban environment could actually support many more deer than it currently does. When it comes to urban deer, wildlife biologists often advise that instead of asking how many deer an urban environment could biologically support, the more salient task is assessing how many deer a community finds acceptable - the social carrying capacity.

Are deer overpopulated at Griffy Lake?

Unlike many of the concerns associated with deer in urban and suburban areas, the increasing prevalence of white-tailed deer at the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve calls for a different analysis altogether. The Griffy Lake Nature Preserve Master Plan of 2008 pointed out that an ever-increasing deer population was stripping the forest understory of native plants and providing the opportunity for invasive species to become established. The Plan called for further study to determine if there is an overabundance of deer. Since that time, IU researchers have been conducting experiments with deer exclosures and vegetation height surveys. These studies have shown that the vegetative diversity at Griffy is declining as a consequence of deer overbrowsing, resulting in an unnaturally open understory.

Are deer aggressive?

No. Given a choice of fight or flight, most white-tailed deer will flee. However, like most mothers, does are protective of their newborns and may become aggressive if they perceive a threat. Never approach a deer, do not feed the deer and be especially cautious of deer with fawns.

What about Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the black-legged tick (aka
"deer tick"). White-tailed deer are not reservoirs for Lyme Disease, but they are the preferred host for deer ticks. Studies have demonstrated that a reduction in deer density results only in a small reduction of deer ticks. In order to dramatically reduce tick numbers, deer would almost have to be eliminated from the landscape - an impracticality in free-ranging environments. The number of Lyme Disease cases in Monroe County has held steady at less than five per year over the last several years.

Commonly Discussed Management Options

What if we just take a "hands off" approach?

As mentioned above, due to ample food, water, cover and the absence of predators, urban deer have high survival rates. On average, an urban deer lives 8-12 years. They also have robust reproductive capacity. Left unchecked, an urban deer can realistically double within the space of three or four years. Non-intervention must be considered with an understanding that a "hands off" approach means that the local deer herd will continue to grow.

What sort of repellents & deterrents actually work?

8' fences, fences slanted toward the deer, and taste and odor repellants oftentimes do a pretty good job of deterring deer from plants and gardens.

Can we relocate the deer?

This method is ineffective and costly and causes great stress to the deer. Deer that have been trapped and relocated experience high mortality rates - as many as 85% die within one year of transport. Mortality is primarily due to a condition called "capture myopathy" - a highly painful degenerative disease of skeletal muscle associated with the increased muscular exertion and over stimulation of the nervous system as a result of the capture, restraint, and transportation of animals.

Translocation efforts are further complicated by the lack of suitable release sites. Most habitats within the species' native range are already saturated with deer and cannot withstand supplemental stocking without risking damage to the habitats. Lastly, wildlife diseases are another concern when deer are moved from one location to another. This technique has the potential to spread harmful and contagious pathogens from one deer population to another. The cost for relocation is approximately $400/deer. Trap and relocation is not approved by the IDNR.

Can we give the deer contraceptives?

Scientists have found that contraception in deer works when the population is isolated and deer do not have an opportunity to migrate out or new deer to migrate in. In an isolated environment, approximately 70-90% of the does must be treated and some forms of contraception require boosters. The cost of dosage is approximately $600-800/doe. 

Contraceptive agents are not meant to reduce overabundant deer populations. They are meant to be used in conjunction with other deer management techniques. Many communities find the cost of contraception to be cost prohibitive. Furthermore, the bioaccumulative effects of contraceptive are not fully known. Used alone, the IDNR does not endorse this method to control free-ranging deer populations.

What about sterilization?

This method involves the permanent loss of fertility in a deer. This method is effective in small pockets (less than 2 square miles) with limited opportunity for immigration. The cost of sterilization is $800-$1,000/doe. Used alone, the IDNR does not support this method alone to control free-ranging deer populations.

What about lethal methods?

Lethal approaches to managing deer populations tend to be more controversial than non-lethal techniques. Like non-lethal options, these approaches are not one-time strategies; instead, they require regular maintenance.

  • Regulated Hunting - This is an economical option where there is sufficient aggregated land. Efficacy hinges on hunter access to property.
  • Trap and Euthanize--Deer are lured into a trap via bait and killed. If killed via; gunshot, the meat is suitable for human consumption. If killed via; chemical, meat is not suitable for consumption.
  • Sharpshooting -Often used in areas where the supply of undeveloped land is not adequate to support traditional regulated deer hunting programs. Performed by trained marksmen, often at night with silencers, this method is effective at short-term reduction of the deer herd. The discharge of firearms is prohibited within the Bloomington City limits.

What about reintroducing predators?

A couple of people have asked about reintroducing large predators to control the local deer population. This approach is not realistic. The lack of suitable habitat (i.e., large, isolated, undeveloped areas), the mobility of many predators, the close proximity to humans, and the potential for predators to kill non-target species, such as pets, make this method unsuitable in most situations. The IDNR does not support the reintroduction of predators.

Deer at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve

When it comes to deer at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve, clear evidence points to ecosystem damage by deer: Native tree seedlings are not regenerating; herbaceous plant species are severely compromised and possibly going locally extinct; invasive species are taking over some areas; the forest understory is unnaturally open; and understory-reliant birds and other animals are losing habitat.

Griffy Lake Nature Preserve Master Plan, 2008
Presentation by Indiana University Department of Biology biologists Angela Shelton and Keith Clay December 7, 2010
Effects of abundant white-tailed deer on vegetation, animals, mycorrhizal fungi, and soils, February 2014