When We Talk Deer Impacts, Let’s Remember the Deer Themselves

CT doe with ticks, courtesy Tom Rawinski

Locally hyperabundant deer are not a trivial nuisance.  They have profound, long-lasting impacts on entire ecosystems.  These deer impacts affect every other plant, animal, and bird out there.  It’s an important, vastly under-reported story, one that’s unfolding right under our noses in America’s sprawling suburbs and exurbs.

In DEERLAND you met a few of the botanists, ecologists, and foresters who helped me trace these connections, and at times I’ve told a simpler version of the story here at my blog.  I’ve shown you forests with browse lines and a missing understory, and exclosures that tell a simple “deer on the right, no deer on the left” story.  I’ve explained how overabundant deer reduce songbird numbers and diversity in the forest canopy, and why all these effects are incredibly persistent.  Even when deer are weakened and starving, their numbers can remain high enough so their habitat never fully recovers.

But let’s not forget the deer themselves.  In their weakened state, they’re more vulnerable to disease—and also more likely to spread disease.  They tend to carry a much higher parasite load, which only weakens them further.  They host protozoan parasites that include toxoplasmosis, babesiosis, and theileriosis, and they’re often infested with some combination of liver flukes, lungworms, stomach worms, meningeal worms, arterial worms, abdominal worms, and tapeworms.  And then there are external parasites, like the ticks tormenting the deer in these two photos.

(The rather scrawny, tick-bitten doe was spotted in the suburbs of Connecticut, and the fawn in the photo below was found out on Long Island near Calverton, N.Y.  For earlier posts on Long Island deer, see here and here.  And here’s an op-ed on Long Island deer that I wrote for the Wall Street Journal.)

The moral of the story?  When deer populations skyrocket, standing by to “let nature take its course” is not always our best option—or our most humane.

Long Island fawn with ticks in eye calverton NY, courtesy Clifford Dayton

© 2014 Al Cambronne.  Photos courtesy Tom Rawinski and Clifford Dayton. For more of Cliff’s photos, visit his website.




Posted in Deer, Ecology, Forests

Pierre and Me


So the other day I did the vanity Google. Admit it.  You have, too.

I don’t get past my first name before Google offers auto-completes like Al Jazeera, Al Pacino, and of course…  Al Capone.  But then right after that, Al Cambronne pops up pretty quickly.  That’s me.

And if I simply search for “Cambronne?”  There’s apparently a restaurant supply company called Cambro, and as long as I can remember I’ve been seeing their name on the bottom of those cheap red plastic glasses at pizza parlors. But immediately thereafter, up pops my name—Cambronne, a surname I share on the internet with a distant relative at a Minneapolis law firm, a cousin who’s an artist working in metal, and various other relatives who mostly live here in the Midwestern U.S.

In Paris, however, there’s the Paris Eiffel Cambronne Hotel, the Best Western Hotel Eiffel Cambronne, the Ibis Tour Eiffel Cambronne, the Hotel Carladez Cambronne, and dozens more hotels and very classy French restaurants—and by “French” I mean the kind that are actually located in France.  They’re near the Cambronne Metro station at the Place Cambronne, and most are on the Rue Cambronne, one of my favorite streets in Paris. Theoretically, that is.  I’ve never actually been there.  But apparently there’s great pizza at a place on Rue Cambronne called Pizza Flora.

Nor have I been to Cambronne Street in New Orleans.  But when I search for Cambronne Street, I see many real estate ads. From the prices, Cambronne Street looks like a pretty OK neighborhood.  One ad describes a “large, gorgeous home” as being located on “mellow Cambronne street.”  Yeah.  That’s me.  Not Easy Street, but Mellow Cambronne Street.

All these places, it turns out, are named after Pierre Cambronne, a heroic general of Napoleon’s who may or may not be an ancestor of mine.  He fought and was wounded at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and may or may not have said something quite noble, quite obscene, or both.  The Battle of Waterloo, of course, gave us the idiom “to meet one’s Waterloo,” and that’s where Pierre Cambronne met his.

According to one newspaper account, when asked to surrender he replied “The Guard dies.1280px-Cambronne_-_buste It does not surrender.” After his death, these words were carved into the base of his statue.  But since he surrendered at Waterloo, married the Scottish nurse who cared for him after his capture, retired to his home town of Nantes, and lived happily for 27 more years until dying there in 1842, more appropriate words might have been “The guard surrenders. It does not die.”

There is, however, another version of the story that’s gained much greater traction over the last two centuries.  Legend has it that when asked to surrender Cambronne replied with more colorful language that was not later carved into the base of his statue.  According to most sources, his defiant reply was brief and to the point: “Merde!”  (“Shit!”).  Even today, in polite company the French often use the euphemism “le mot de Cambronne” (the word of Cambronne).  Although this is the version of the story told by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, I’ve also heard vague rumors that Cambronne may have used even stronger language at Waterloo.

At any rate, on the rare occasions when I introduce myself to anyone from France who stayed awake in history class, they are always delighted to learn of my last name.  I tell them I’m not sure, but yes, I might be related to Pierre.  Yes, probably.  I’m pretty sure.

The moral of the story: There’s nothing like a good story.

© 2014 Al Cambronne




Posted in Books, History

Update on Non-Abandoned Lawn Fawns

bambi 1

In my previous post, originally written about this same time last year, I reminded readers to not “rescue” fawns that appear to be abandoned by their mothers. Later, go ahead and check out that post for more details.  But here’s the short version: If you spot a fawn that appears to abandoned and doomed, it probably isn’t. When fawns are very small it’s safest for them to remain behind while Mom is out foraging. She may be gone for hours at a time—or even all day.  But she’ll be back.

The fawn is neither abandoned nor doomed—but it probably is doomed if well-meaning humans decide to rescue it.  Every year about this time, animal shelters get a flood of phone calls—and even drop-ins—from people who had good intentions but should have left that non-abandoned fawn right where it was.

After all my preaching about this, I now have new empathy for people who are tempted to rescue “abandoned” fawns. Two days ago we spotted a days-old fawn at the edge our lawn, not fifty feet from where I’m writing this. It walked a few steps on very shaky legs, then settled down into some grass about six inches high. It was invisible. Even through binoculars, I could only see its ears.

Then yesterday morning I walked over to take a picture of the spot where it had bedded down. The grass was still flattened, and when I included my size 11 foot for scale, it was clear that the flattened area was very small indeed.

When I turned around and walked back toward the house, there it was—nestled right against the concrete slab under our deck. For the next twelve hours, it didn’t move more than a few inches.  Nearly every time I tiptoed to the edge of the deck and peered over, it was asleep. Or was it dying?  Was it starving?  Was it OK?  Maybe it really was abandoned.  Was its mother ever coming back?

This morning it was gone—but not abandoned.

© 2014 Al Cambronne

bambi 2

Posted in Deer | 2 Comments

Encore Post: Please Don’t Rescue “Abandoned” Fawns


As a public service, I’d like to bump this post back up to the top. This information is so important, I may do the same next May…

Whether you live in the boonies or the ‘burbs, one thing is certain. Your new neighbors will be arriving soon.  They’ll have four legs, spots, an abundance of cuteness, and a vigilant mother who’s closer than you think.  So please…  don’t “rescue” them.

Every May and June, wildlife agencies and animal rehab centers all over America receive frantic calls from well-intentioned souls asking what they should do next with the whitetail fawn they’ve just rescued.  The answer: As quickly as you can, put it right back where you found it.  Better yet, don’t rescue abandoned fawns in the first place.  With rare exceptions, they’re not abandoned at all.

At birth, whitetail fawns weigh from 5 to 8 pounds. Their mothers immediately lick them clean and consume all traces of the amniotic fluid and afterbirth.  It’s part of the bonding process, and it also reduces the scent trail that would attract insects and predators.  A newborn fawn is almost totally scent-free, and its spots are more than just Disney decoration.  They’re perfect camouflage for a motionless fawn laying hidden in the sun-dappled shadows.

For the first weeks of its life, a fawn is safest if it stays right where it’s put.  Its mother leaves to browse on her own for hours at a time, returning only to nurse.  Although some visits last mere minutes, a doe’s high-protein, high-fat milk allows fawns to gain up to 10 percent of their body weight every day.

Later, they’ll tag along with mom and follow her wherever she goes.  For now, their instinct is to stay hidden and await her return.  Even when danger approaches, their best chance for survival is to stay hidden until it’s past.  The youngest fawns may even allow themselves to be picked up without a struggle.  This doesn’t mean they’re sick or injured, and it definitely doesn’t mean they’re abandoned.

The doe is probably nearby, and its fawn doesn’t need your help.  (Nor does it needs cow’s milk, which is less nutritious, poorly digested, and certain to give it debilitating diarrhea.)  Odds are, your “rescue”will be its death sentence.  Most fawns taken to animal rehab centers don’t survive.  To make a deer or any other wild animal a pet is illegal in most states, and it’s a bad idea for lots of other reasons.  The best mother for a baby deer is its own.

As tempting as it might be, just touching that fawn you’ve discovered could increase its risk of being detected by predators that include coyotes, bears, and your neighbor’s dog.  Even your close approach could create a scent trail that leads curious predators to a tasty meal of very tender venison.

(Most experts, however, don’t believe that does will reject their fawns because of human scent; their bond is way too strong.  And the advice to cleanse human scent from a fawn by rubbing it with a towel that’s first been rubbed in grass and leaves?  Probably not all that helpful, considering where else your towel has been—plus the scented detergents and fabric softeners in which you’ve washed it.  A deer’s nose has over 300 million scent receptors.  Bloodhounds have around 220 million, and humans fewer than 5 million.)

When you don’t see the fawn’s mother, that doesn’t mean she’s not there.  You may not see her, but she sees you.  And if you repeatedly observe the fawn in the same general area but haven’t glimpsed its mother for hours or even days, that still doesn’t mean the fawn is abandoned.  Leave it be.

The only possible exceptions?  If you discover a fawn that’s bleeding, has obviously broken limbs, or is crawling with flies or maggots.  Or, if you spot one that refuses to leave the side of a roadkill doe.  Otherwise, leave it where it is.

If you ever encounter a curious fawn that approaches you, the best way to ensure its survival is to help that wild animal stay wild.  If it approaches you without fear or wariness, clap your hands, yell obscenities—or, if you prefer, the word “venison”—at the top of your lungs, and chase it away.  Someday soon that lesson will be a valuable one.

For all the other newborn fawns you encounter, remember the words of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: “If you care… Leave them there!”

© 2013 Al Cambronne

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Deer

Give Winter-Stressed Deer a Little Personal Space

winter-stressed deer, copyright Al Cambronne

Today in the Duluth News-Tribune, I suggested that we give winter-stressed deer a little personal space—and maybe even skip a year of shed hunting.  Although our area is due for a big meltdown, at the moment we’re experiencing a temporary setback.  Today and tomorrow we’re expecting at least a foot of new snow.

In this photo from last Sunday, the deer is standing in a “tree well” under a spruce.  Everywhere around it, the ground was still covered by two to four feet of heavy, wet snow.  When frightened deer flounder through that kind of snow for even a short distance, they burn huge amounts of energy.  This time of year it’s energy they can’t afford to waste.

(In case you’re wondering why I don’t practice what I preach, I saw this deer when I was walking by on the road.  I snapped the photo from there, avoided making eye contact or any sudden movements, and was careful to not linger.  I did not strap on snowshoes and wade into the thickest woods I could find to look for deer or their shed antlers.  If you live in my neighborhood, maybe you shouldn’t, either. And if you’ve already been doing that every weekend for the past two months…)

Sure, the weather is getting better.  But for deer here in the North, April is the cruelest month. Even in a normal winter, many of them survive months of subzero temperatures, belly-deep powder, and plate-glass springtime crust, only to exhaust their final reserves just before the last snows melt and the first green shoots emerge.  But this has not been a normal winter.

Some deer haven’t lasted until now, and the survivors are already running on empty.  So please…  Give those deer some room.

© 2014 Al Cambronne


Posted in Deer, Ecology, Hunting | 2 Comments

A Deer Letter From Long Island: Before and After in Southold

 2001 Photo From Southold, NY

Before: Fewer Deer in 2001

After my “Can’t See the Forest for the Deer” op-ed appeared in last week’s Wall Street Journal, I received several e-mails from readers.  One was from Southold, New York—the same Southold out on Long Island where a suburban deer cull is currently underway.  My correspondent lives right next door to the Tall Pines Conservation Area mentioned in last week’s op-ed and blog post, and she’s unfortunately experienced the same level of deer damage on her own property.  She was kind enough to send me these before-and-after photos of the woods beside her cottage.

She wrote: “In 2001 we could not walk thru our woods- so filled with undergrowth, wild berries and plants, butterflies snakes salamanders frogs small animals all over and ground nesting birds. It is DEAD now – you can see thru 1000 feet . Nothing alive below 6 ft from the ground. We had a few deer in 2001. HERDS of them now…  We’ve both had Lyme disease and we drive 15 miles an hour- as many deer run across the road every time we go out- including daytime… People do not want to visit us on the East end due to the tick diseases.”

Soon after buying her four acres, she created a stitched-together panorama showing the entire 900 feet of frontage along the road.  (The photo above is one of many she used to build her panorama.)  Back then deer numbers were apparently at a lower, more ecologically sustainable level.  As you can see from the photo below, that’s no longer true.  Lately she hasn’t felt excited about taking regular photos showing the missing understory and midstory in her woods.  She did, however, find this 2013 Google street view of her property.

By now Google must have collected thousands of street views that document the impacts of overabundant deer in America’s cities, parks, and suburbs. Some streets must have been photographed repeatedly over the years.  I find that whole idea fascinating, and I hope someone of a more empirical, analytical bent will find in it the germ of a tremendous research project.  But for the reader whose woods are pictured below, that’s little consolation.

2013 Google Streetview Showing Deer Damage in Southold, NY

After: A 2013 Google Street View of the Same Address

© 2014 Al Cambronne


Posted in Deer, Ecology, Forests | 5 Comments

Deer Impacts on Long Island and Beyond

Mashomack Exclosure, Courtesy Thomas J. Rawinski

An Exclosure at Long Island’s Mashomack Reserve:
Deer on the Left, No Deer on the Right

From the Suffolk Times: “It is reported that wild deer are doing considerable damage on the Island.  Those who have suffered most wrote to the State Conservation Commission, who came to investigate.”  And the same paper’s headline, just a month later: To Save the Deer: Tremendous Opposition Prevents Slaughter on Shelter Island.  Those stories aren’t from last week.  They’re from 1916.

Of course, since then some things have changed on Long Island. Very few deer remain in Deer Park.  If you’d like to live among deer, head a little farther east. Or, head west to one of America’s dozens of other Deer Parks. There’s also Deer Ridge, Deer Hill, Deer Hollow, Deer Valley, Deer Meadow, and Deer Creek. Want more? An online search for “deer real estate” yields over 69,000,000 hits. Why so many suburbs, housing developments, and streets named after deer?  Because it sells.

For all of us, whether we hunt them, watch them, or just plain love knowing they’re out there in the shadows beyond the edge of our lawn, deer have become an archetypal symbol of wilderness, wildness, and a return to nature—or at least an escape to a gentrified country lifestyle.  Love is blind; for hunters and watchers alike, the term “overabundant deer” can seem a puzzling oxymoron. But all too often we’re choosing Bambi over biodiversity and whitetails over all other wildlife. Inevitably, these changes echo and reverberate through entire ecosystems. Higher deer numbers, for example, invariably lead to lower songbird numbers and less songbird diversity.

Most of us, even if we spend a fair amount of time out in the woods, have never once seen a forest that’s not shaped by deer. It’s not just that we don’t know what we’re seeing. It’s that we don’t know what we’re not seeing, because deer have already eaten it. We even seem hard-wired to prefer a forest missing its understory. That craving may have once kept us safer from predators, and today it explains our lawns, golf courses, cemeteries, and parks. The words we most often use to describe a forest with too many deer can sound like praise: “open and park-like.”

Meanwhile, deer densities per square mile in America’s suburbs and parks have at times reached 207 in Kansas City, 241 in Philadelphia, 300 in parts of New Jersey, and 400 in Washington, D.C. Obviously, the numbers didn’t stay that high for years on end. They couldn’t. Something had to give, and standing back to watch and “let nature take its course” isn’t always our best option—or our most humane.

There are no easy answers, and not everyone will agree on the best solution.  In fact many people, even though they see themselves as environmentalists, deny there’s even a problem in the first place.  “So deer are eating a few plants in the back corner of someone’s lawn,” they argue.  “What’s the big deal?”  But exploding deer populations are more than just a minor nuisance.  If we care about the entire ecosystem, and if we truly care about the deer themselves, then at times we may need to make difficult choices.

To help spread the word, I wrote this op-ed that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal.  (Update: You can also click here to download a PDF. My op-ed is on the bottom half of the page.) There, we didn’t have room for photos.  Here, I’ve included two from U. S. Forest Service botanist Thomas J. Rawinski. Up above, an exclosure that tells a simple story: deer on the left, no deer on the right.  Below, a shot from Long Island’s Ruth Oliva Preserve.  As you can see, deer have totally eliminated the forest understory. It’s food for thought.

© 2014 Al Cambronne

Ruth Oliva Deer Impacts, Courtesy Thomas J. Rawinski


Posted in Deer, Ecology, Forests | 7 Comments