Communications Project

Document Type:Master's Thesis
Name:Benjamin C. West
Title:Deer Damage in Virginia: Implications for Management
Degree:Master of Science
Department:Fisheries and Wildlife
Committee Chair: James A. Parkhurst
Committee Members:Pat Scanlon
Dean Stauffer
Steve McMullin
Keywords:Odocoileus virginianus, Deer Damage, Deer Management, Survey, Recreational Hunting, Virginia, White-tailed Deer, Wildlife
Date of defense:May 15, 1998
Availability:Release the entire work for Virginia Tech access only.
After one year release worldwide only with written permission of the student and the advisory committee chair.


A questionnaire was sent to 1,506 randomly selected agricultural producers and homeowners in Virginia during 1996 to determine perceptions about deer damage and management during 1995 (response rate 52%). Overall, 58% of respondents experienced damage by deer to their plantings during 1995. Producers (71%) were more likely to experience deer damage than homeowners (37%) Among farmers, producers of soybeans, tree fruits, and peanuts were most likely to experience damage and generally rated it as being more severe than that reported by others. Regardless of perceptions regarding damage, most (70%) individuals believed that Virginia’s deer population should be reduced to some degree in the future. Respondents’ perceptions regarding the level of damage influenced their opinion about the level to which deer populations should be reduced; those perceiving greater damage were increasingly likely to desire a dramatic decrease in Virginia’s deer population. Similarly, perception about the level of damage affected a respondent’s general opinion about deer; respondents who experienced severe damage also were more likely to believe that deer are a nuisance. Overall, a majority (84%) of respondents favored recreational hunting as a means to manage deer in Virginia. A respondent’s gender and the situation in which they were raised (e.g., urban, rural, farm) were strongly related to preference for management options. Female respondents and those raised in more urban areas were more likely to favor “non-lethal” management options (i.e., contraception, trapping and relocating individuals, allowing nature to take its course, fencing, and repellents) than were male respondents and those raised in rural environments. Deer density in a respondent’s county of residence was directly related to perception regarding deer damage and desire for future population management (e.g., reduction versus increase).

A pilot study was conducted to assess the impacts of refugia on traditional deer management efforts via recreational hunting during 1996. Two study areas in Virginia were selected and, using information supplied by the county tax office, questionnaires were sent to individuals who owned land in the respective areas to determine distribution of land-uses, extent and severity of deer damage, and role of recreational hunting within each site. Deer damage was strongly related to land-use; respondents who owned lands on which some agricultural activity occurred were more likely to experience damage than respondents who owned non-agricultural lands. Respondents in each study area harvested more deer from their land than the mean harvest rate for the county in which they resided. Thus, it appears that, in some situations, deer harvest did not reduce damage to an acceptable level. The presence of local refugia theoretically had the potential to contribute to this relationship, but more research is needed to make definitive conclusions.

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