Deer populations have grown dramatically on Fire Island National Seashore (FIlS) since 1983. Trend data reveal a dichotomy in deer dynamics. In the eastern half of the island, deer density appears to have stabilized between 25-35 deer/km2. In the western half of the island, deer densities are 3-4 times as high in residential communities. Concomitant with that increase has been a general decline in physical stature of some animals, visible impacts on island vegetation, especially in the Sunken Forest, and a perceived increase in the frequency of human and deer interactions. Intensive research on FIlS has shown that deer occupy relatively predictable home ranges throughout the year, but can and do move up and down the island. Impacts of deer on vegetation are most dramatic in the Sunken Forest. Most obvious are the effects of browsing on the herb layer of the Sunken Forest. The least obvious, but perhaps more significant impact is the stark lack of regeneration of canopy tree species since about 1970, which coincides with the initiation of the deer population irruption. A number of herbs and shrubs have been greatly reduced in the understory, and their propagules from the soil. Deer do not readily transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease to other organisms, but deer are important hosts for adult ticks which underscores their importance in the transmission pathway of the disease to humans. Deer on FIlS, while occasionally docile, are still wild animals and should be treated as such. Some animals are relatively unafraid of humans due to the absence of predation and a lack of harassment. This in turn has contributed to a longstanding tradition of feeding deer by many residents and visitors, particularly in western portions of the island. Feeding affects both the behavior and population dynamics of deer inhabiting Fire Island. Recent efforts to reduce deer feeding by visitors and residents have been very effective. Ongoing experiments with Porcine Zona Pellucida immunocontraception demonstrate some promise of this technology as a population management tool.. Success appears to be linked directly to factors affecting access to deer, which vary considerably among treatment locations. Continued high National Park Service visibility among communities in the form of interpretive programs, extension and outreach activities, and continued support of research and monitoring of deer and their effects on island biota are keys to successful resolution of persistent issues.
Additional publication details
Federal Government Series
White-tailed deer ecology and management on Fire Island