Jekyll to revisit deer kill idea
by Russ Bynum
January 18, 2014
SAVANNAH | After an outcry from horrified residents and months of review, Jekyll Island officials plan to revisit a recommendation that the state park hire professional sharpshooters to reduce the number of deer living on the island state park.
White-tailed deer have become abundantly visible in the trees lining the island’s roads and golf course fairways. The Jekyll Island Authority has been wrestling with whether to take action since 2011, when a survey estimated there were too many deer to support a healthy population.
The state agency’s governing board is scheduled to take up the deer issue Tuesday for the first time since July, when board members voted unanimously to accept a staff report that recommended thinning the herd. The report suggested just one method: hiring shooters employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Critics have warned that killing deer would leave a bloody stain on Jekyll Island’s reputation for wildlife conservation. Bonnie Newell, a nurse who has lived in Jekyll Island since the 1970s, has helped solicit opinions from outside experts that cast doubt on estimates that the island has 76 to 146 deer per square mile. During the island’s popular shrimp-and-grits festival in September, she dressed in a deer costume while handing out information to attendees.
“We’ve made great progress with conservation on Jekyll Island,” Newell said. “We have antennas on the rattlesnakes and we give them names. We have a great center for the sea turtles. We’re doing a study to decide why terrapins cross the causeway. Why the hell do we want to bait and shoot the deer? I think it would be the worst publicity.”
Ben Carswell, the island’s conservation manager, has told the board he’s concerned deer are putting too much strain on plant species by eating up to 5,000 pounds of vegetation a day. A small sample of Jekyll deer examined by veterinarians more than a year ago found several were malnourished.
Board members have since received letters from outside experts and advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States, criticizing methods used to estimate the deer population. One letter by Valdosta State University biologist Brad Bergstrom and retired state wildlife biologist Sid Painter suggested Jekyll Island’s deer appear to be self-regulating their numbers by having fewer offspring. Killing deer, they said, could spark a baby boom.
Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, said the board hasn’t taken up the issue since last summer because members wanted time to understand the issue better. He said the board’s chairman, Richard Royal, has advocated ordering further study before taking any action to limit the number of deer — using shooters or otherwise.
Hooks said he can’t predict what decision the board will make, “but the chairman feels it is time for the board to consider the issue.”