Gardening

Introducing deer to Southcentral Alaska could be a disaster for gardeners and the ecosystem

By now I am sure every gardener in Alaska has heard that the governor wants the state to release deer into the Mat-Su. No gardener or yardener would ever entertain such a foolish, misguided idea. It’s for the hunters, of course.

There is a reason Outside gardeners who do suffer deer call them “hoofed rats.” During the 10-year life of a typical doe there will be many daughters, and between them, the group will be responsible for introducing 100 or so additional deer. You do the math. The bottom line is there are not enough hunters in the world, nonetheless with access to Alaska, to make a dent in what will be a humongous population of hungry deer.

[Alaska Gov. Dunleavy wants to transplant deer into the Mat-Su for hunters. State biologists say the project would likely fail.]

Don’t believe me, believe the Molokai experiment in Hawaii. There are now some 70,000 deer, descendants of introduced animals, but only 7,000 residents. Or Maui: on your last trip did you see any of the 50,000 deer that reside there? Talk about an invasive species. Introduce deer to the Mat-Su? Is the governor kidding?

A good way to tell if a mammal is invasive is to check its hunting season, a device designed to keep populations at huntable levels. More and more jurisdictions have year-round deer hunting. This means their populations have gotten too large. Where I grew up in New York, there was the occasional deer. Today, residents of the town frequently hire bowmen to sit in trees and take invaders out. They are permitted to do so throughout the year.

Even if every single person in Alaska was a successful hunter and bagged a deer, there would be a gazillion left to invade your yard, hit your car and spread diseases. The only way to really keep them out of the yard, incidentally, is with a high fence — 8, 10 feet or more as deer can really jump.

Deer are not like moose. They eat a lot of the same things, but they sometimes dig for their food — as in retrieving your spring-flowering bulbs or heaving a beloved perennial out of the ground to munch its crown — which moose don’t. And deer also eat things the moose won’t. Wow, moose browse loss is bad enough. Why, governor, would we want to dramatically increase ungulate browsing?

The bottom line: We don’t need to add deer to the animals that eat our yard plants, and we shouldn’t really particularly want them out in the wild eating the native ones. Their presence usually results in an increase of invasive plants that they often avoid. In fact, the presence of deer can cause a complete change in a forest’s understory, resulting in all manner of deviations in plant succession, tree and shrub cover and all the while attracting deer predators that might not normally be in the area.

Do I dare mention the possibility of wasting disease, ticks and Lyme disease, and God only knows what else? Could these deer pass on diseases to our native moose? And, if Fish and Game approves, what is next? Elephants can survive here and would really be cool for hunters, I suppose.

Folks, spare me the letters. I am not against hunting. I am against harebrained ideas totally lacking in scientific support or even a popular demand. We have seen what uncontrollable populations of deer have caused elsewhere. We watch as Australians suffer through plagues of other species introduced with the best of intentions. The point is we don’t experiment with Alaska’s nature or its gardens.

Cleary, the guv doesn’t garden, nor does he understand that there is a huge Garden Party of citizens ready to pounce on ideas that negatively affect the state’s number one hobby. So, let’s not spend one more minute nor one more cent on this poorly conceived idea. The study hasn’t started yet. I am here to insist in no uncertain terms, on behalf of the gardeners and yardeners of Alaska, that Fish and Game immediately nip the idea in the bud. It is the only fate the idea deserves.

JEFF’S ALASKA GARDEN CALENDAR

Holiday lights at The Garden: Stroll The Garden’s main loop bathed in this year’s holiday light displays. Wow. Sunday, Nov. 28, through Saturday, Jan. 29. Information and tickets at www.alaskabg.org

Paperwhites: You will find these pre-chilled bulbs all over town. Once they bloom, they are done. Toss them.

Poinsettias: When selecting, look for the flowers in the middle of those red bracts. The more immature the flower, the longer the plant should last.

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