Fallow Deer
Michael Ellis

In 1949 a Pt. Reyes landowner named Doc Ottinger went to the San Francisco Zoo and brought back two species of exotic deer. He released them onto ranchlands thinking these would be a couple of good huntin’ deer. Rumor had it he was particularly fond of the white fallow deer. Because Doc was somewhat nearsighted, he figured they’d be easier to shoot. I doubt this story is true but his introduction some 55 years ago has greatly succeeded. Fallow and axis deer now number over 1100.

And that, dear friends, is the problem. National Park researchers have determined after years of careful and thorough scientific study that this growing population has an extremely detrimental effect on the oak woodlands and streamside vegetation. One reason is the breeding strategy of the fallow deer. Bucks gather in large numbers and try to out compete each other to impress the gathered females. As many as 200 animals congregate at one location, pawing the ground, rooting up vegetation, and over grazing the available browse. The result is a field that looks like it has been plowed and vegetation that has been pummeled. Streams fill with sediment and habitat is degraded.

It also appears the population of native black tailed deer has been reduced due to competition for food from the exotics. The number of the black tail is 56% of what it should be in a well functioning environment. There is not enough data yet to see if the native Tule Elk are being affected but they may well be.

The Pt. Reyes National Seashore was established in 1962 and one of the legal mandates was the “preservation of the natural environment”. To this end the Park has proposed that the two introduced, non-native deer species be removed. The most effective way to do this is by shooting them. Contraceptives have been tried many times in the past, including on Angel Island and have all been dismal, expensive failures.

The Seashore is NOT a zoo, created for the aesthetic pleasures of the viewing public. It is a national resource for the preservation of quickly disappearing, fully functioning ecosystems. Let the Park Service do its job.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.



Posted on

November 7, 2010