The reproductive potential of White-tailed deer is no secret to the majority of citizens today. Often a simple drive down an area roadway will show signs of their presence in the form of an unsightly carcass or an unlucky commuters bumper laying near the shoulder. You may have even shaken your head at the sight and thought to yourself, “What a waste!”. Well you weren’t alone.
In early 2004, as populations of White-tailed deer continued to climb (along with the associated crop damage) despite historically liberal harvest limits for local hunters, area wildlife managers were left scratching their heads. Why would the overall population of deer continue to climb despite increased hunting opportunities for local hunters? What was the limiting factor in the reduction effort and how do we correct it?
With the help of a landowner survey revealing the increasing environmental, health, safety and economic problems caused by the overpopulation of white-tailed deer, the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and other County departments asked this very same question. How do we reduce the number of deer without creating wanton waste and possibly fill another void?
In the end the answer was not so much the lack of will, but the need for a way.
Regardless of hunter harvest opportunities, the average household freezer holds packaged meat from up to 2 processed deer. Some hunters were able to find family and friends who could use the meat from other harvest deer, but often their freezers filled up quickly as well. The hunters desire to harvest more deer in support of a sustainable population was there, but the avenue to distribute that meat was not. Meanwhile, the freezers of local area food banks didn’t stay quite as full and the stomachs of less fortunate families faired about the same. Enter the DED, area farmers and a non-profit by the name of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
The DED Agricultural Services Division along with FHFH and area farmers worked with various agencies within Montgomery County as part of this County-wide deer management effort to find a solution. The solution? A County-funded deer donation program to help connect the increased harvest from hunters with the areas shelters and food banks.
The Deer Donation Program encouraged farmers and hunters to harvest more deer in a responsible manner by providing local, minimum- hassle deer collection sites, of which there are two in Montgomery County. Hunters would drop off their harvested deer at these refrigerated trailer collection sites which would in-turn be transported to a certified meat processor. Once processed, the meat is then donated to the Capital Area Food Bank which distributes the meat to food banks and shelters across the Washington Metro area.
The program is currently administered in partnership with Patriot Land and Wildlife Management Services that coordinates the collection, processing, and donation of venison to food banks in the local area. From it’s humble beginnings of 39 donated deer in the 2004-2005 season, the 2010-2011 season proved to be the best yet with 401 deer being donated. These 401 deer equate to over 16,000 pounds of meat donated to the areas less fortunate.
The Deer Donation Program has invested $140,000 over 7 years. The value of the Program is calculated to be upwards of $255,000. This is based on the value of the meat collected (49,080 lbs at $2/lb) and the value of the crops not consumed from agricultural fields (1,227 deer harvested, 2,000 lbs of grain saved for each deer harvested (2,454,000 lbs.), value of grain estimated at $3.671/bushel). This does not include the reduction in vehicular damage caused by deer vs. vehicle collisions or many of the other negative economic impacts resulting from an overpopulation of deer.
Even despite the apparent economic success of the program, the true value to those families in need is something that is hard to put a price on.
The program has spawned the creation of several other similar donation programs throughout Maryland over the past few years. Hopefully with renewed support from local officials, this program can continue to fill a need on multiple fronts.