keeping deer out

Can You Support Wildlife While Keeping Deer Out?

If you want to cultivate abundance for people, plants and wildlife, you’re trying to work with nature, not against it. So what do you do with wildlife like deer? Keeping deer out of your property may actually be one of the best things you can do to support wildlife and make the living world around you come alive. Keep reading to learn more about why keeping deer out may be one of the best things you can do.

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Growing with nature means cultivating abundance for people, plants and wildlife to make the living world around you come alive. I fully believe that, by working with nature, you can strike a balance where wildlife keeps pests in balance while your food crops thrive. 

But I‘ve installed deer fencing all around my property to keep the deer out. How does this fit with the idea of growing with nature?

It turns out that striking a balance with nature only works in certain conditions. Luckily, with small pests like bugs, there are lots of predators that eat those bugs, who will gladly take care of the pests for you if the conditions are right. These might be other bugs, or larger animals like birds.

But most of us in the United States live in areas with very few large predators. In my area, the largest predator that’s typically making the rounds is coyotes. But they will rarely take down a deer.

Humans are really the main predator for deer, but we don’t act like other predators, and the deer know it. They’re generally not that scared of us—I should know, since I have chased after them many times, and it can take a bit of effort to get them to run very far!

The absence of natural predators means that finding a balance with deer is very challenging. Keep reading to learn more about what this means for deer, and why keeping deer out of your property may actually promote more wildlife.

But before you keep reading, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print worksheet from the post, How to Work With Nature to Rewild your Property (And Why You Should), which is all about what you can do to promote wildlife on your property, and how that will help you.

Are Deer Wild?

keeping deer out supports wildlife

Our actions have dramatically changed the behavior of deer. Has this change in behavior resulted in a deer population that‘s not truly wild anymore?

The lack of predators has dramatically changed the overall behavior and population of deer (and other large herbivores).

Deer numbers are much larger than they were historically, and they tend to stick around in one area, eating their fill before moving on.

When deer faced lots of predators, their numbers were lower, and they had to keep on the move in order to stay safe.

While the lack of predators is good for deer numbers, it has essentially made them lazy. I can get incredibly close to the deer that come into my property—they just aren’t that afraid.

So with these changes, can we truly call deer wildlife?

Obviously, they are not tame or domesticated, but neither are they truly wild. The result is that their impact on our plants is much greater than it would otherwise be. When even a single deer gets through my fence, I can have whole fruit trees stripped of leaves.

When plants are protected from deer, they’re much more likely to thrive. These thriving plants in turn can support far more wildlife than a stressed plant.

This is why I’m keeping deer out of my property. Without predators, it's not possible to find a balance with deer without taking some sort of action.

I have chosen to just fence my property and keep the deer out. Other people use DIY repellants, which can work, but since I wanted to protect more than just my woody plants, I went with a fence.

Keeping Deer Out to Promote Wildlife

So, perhaps deer are not truly wild, but it still just feels wrong, as someone who wants to grow with nature, to be keeping deer out. They were here before we were, after all!

But keeping deer out of your property can actually result in more wildlife.

Deer can greatly reduce the amount of plants growing in an area when there are not predators to keep them in check.

I know my property would have far less diversity of plants if the deer were here every night and day munching on it.

I know this because at first, I tried to work with the deer. It didn’t work.

By keeping deer out, I’ve been able to make headway on 2 food forests, a garden that includes native wild vegetables, multiple hedgerows and many other planting projects.

All of these projects include native plants, in addition to non-native plants. These native plants support a wide range of wildlife.

These projects have resulted in an explosion of plant growth, which in turn is supporting insects, birds, and many other types of wildlife—far more than my property had before these planting projects.

But if deer were here, there would be a lot less plant growth, which would result in less insects, less birds, and less wildlife in general.

The greater the diversity of life at the lower levels (plants and insects), the greater the numbers of life the system as a whole can support.

So, while it may feel wrong to keep deer out, it can be the best way to support wildlife.

if I didn’t keep deer out, I wouldn’t be able to support anywhere near the amount of wildlife that I can today. In this case, I’ve chosen to go with the classic saying from Star Trek: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one”.

Sorry deer, your needs are not more important than the needs of the rest of the wildlife in this area!

Impacts of Keeping Deer Out

keeping deer out promotes abundance

By keeping deer out, my plants have flourished. But while there are many types of wildlife that visit my property, there are no longer any large plant-eating animals. Just small ones, like rabbits. So what does that mean for working with nature on my property? What role did deer and other large plant-eating animals provide?

So, do we just make some DIY repellant or put up a fence and call it good? I’m afraid there are some negative consequences to keeping deer out of your property.

Deer have a role in the natural world, just like any other animal. They are only an issue when they’re out of balance with their environment.

Normally, deer would break off pieces of plants. They would also reduce competition between plants by eating the tender young plants and new growth.

Without deer, you will need to take over this role. A great way is to practice regular chop-and-drop, where you cut back your plants and just drop the cuttings on the ground as mulch.

Deer would also be leaving their droppings, replenishing the soil. You can use animals like chickens to provide a regular source of fertilizer to replace the loss of deer droppings.

You could also replace some of those nutrients by taking steps to encourage different types of wildlife to move in. Birds and other small wildlife will all bring in nutrients to your property.

Overall, you should be able to fill the role that deer would have filled, and potentially even improve on it through design.

Have you struggled with deer on your property? How have you addressed this challenge? Leave a comment to share!


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

  • Daiva says:

    Never thought about advantages of deer walking through the woods. Thank you for the informative article.

    • Daron says:

      Thanks for the comment! Yeah, it is interesting–every species of wildlife has a role in the environment but sometimes that role can be hard to spot in the case of animals like deer where they are out of balance. Thanks again!

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