Rid Anchorage of Destructive Deer
While There's Still Time

Jeff Lowenfels / Anchorage Daily News / January 23, 2004

Is it a good thing that two Sitka black-tailed deer have been seen wandering around the Anchorage Bowl? I don't think so, and this is one gardener who is not afraid to express his opinion: Sitka black-tailed deer have no place here. They may be small, but deer eat like locusts. And they can breed like rabbits.

I can understand folks having a nanosecond of fascination with the idea that these animals made their way from the Prince William Sound area, over Turnagain Pass and into foreign territory. First seen near Potter Marsh, they are apparently now residing on the other side of town at Kulis Air National Guard Base. However, it really shouldn't take any more time than that to snap back to reality and remember we already have enough garden and landscape problems as a result of moose. Please, someone get rid of these visitors. Now.

As it turns out, Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) are not a part of the Bowl's ecosystem. In fact, the Sitka black-tailed deer isn't even natural to the Prince William Sound area, having been released for hunters by a territorial governor in the '20s. So no one need have any problem with the idea of simply rounding up these two intruders (and any others that may happen to turn up) and either let them join the five presently residing at the Alaska Zoo or give them the proverbial "blue ticket" out of here to wherever they want to go as long as it is far, far away.

Deer are very much like moose. They eat vegetative matter. They are also very different. One difference is the ease with which they become tame. Moose are pretty skittish and will eventually succumb to yelling, throwing snowballs and the like. Not deer. They would walk into the middle of a car accident while it was happening if they were used to eating out of a nearby yard.

And deer are much less fussy than moose when it comes to finding things they like to eat. In the winter, they are generally restricted to eating evergreens and woody material such as bark and lichens. During the warm months, however, they eat green leaves, having tired of winter fare. Some even dig and eat spring-flowering bulbs. They'll try anything once, and that's often enough to destroy everything in your garden.

Sitka black-tailed deer are not nibblers like moose. They eat things to the ground, hardly using their teeth, preferring instead to let microbes in their stomach do the hard work. For goodness' sake, I promote the importance of microbes in the garden more than anyone else, but not in deer stomachs.

Wolves apparently are the only major predator of these critters, though occasionally a brown or black bear will try one for a meal, so unless we are willing to establish a hunting season in the Bowl, we have the potential of a large population of landscape-eating deer with an increased number of wolves and bears. Is there any reason to attract any more of these to our area?

The supporters of these deer won't be gardeners. It will be all those who can't forget seeing "Bambi." The fawns of these deer, born in the spring, are a mere 12 inches tall. Cute? I'm afraid they will be to many who don't garden. And with wolves in the picture, you can bet the Lower 48 press will never let us fix a deer problem if they become established.

No, there's no logic to the wonderment of the news media over the appearance of Sitka black-tailed deer in the Anchorage Bowl, and it must stop now. If the deep snowpack, the lack of which allowed them to get here in the first place, doesn't cause their natural demise, we should demand that the powers that be get rid of them before we can't.

Call Fish and Game if you see one of these 80- to 100-pound deer so they can track them. However, finish your call with a request that they be removed before it is too late. The time to act is soon.

Jeff Lowenfels gardens in Anchorage. He is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America.
He can be reached at jeff@gardener.com.

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