Lyme Disease & Deer



Lyme disease has dragged Bambi into a fight.

In one corner, hunters are happy to oblige when seasonal gaming restrictions loosen. Why not? They gain opportunities to practice their skills and bring home fresh venison. Those who argue for extending the hunting season claim that a reduction in the deer population will result in removing a large percentage of ticks, which in turn will result in fewer new cases of Lyme.

Ecologists, in the other corner, cry "killer" and assert that Lyme can't be stopped as easily as a bullet stops a buck. If the entire global population of deer were to disappear tomorrow, ticks would have no trouble surviving. They'd simply find other host animals. Deer aren't the only animals that spread Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Farm animals, cats, dogs, mice, squirrels and other warm-blooded critters are also susceptible to Lyme bacteria. Ticks are not picky. They make no distinctions between pigeons or people when it comes to finding a blood meal and a ride.

Of course, there are sound reasons deer for blaming deer for the spread of Lyme disease. They are the perfect traveling host animals for ticks because of their proximity to underbrush, greenery and grasses where ticks are likely to be found. Deer are highly adaptable and thrive in changing environments such as new housing developments on the edges of woods.

Hunters and others claim that deer overpopulation causes additional hazards. For example, deer are the cause of numerous traffic accidents, and the bane of many suburban gardeners with prized roses and other appetizers that hungry deer love to munch.

You may enjoy seeing them hop and leap over your hedges. However, where there are deer, there are ticks. Where there are ticks, there are increased chances of Lyme infection. Even if you stay off the grass as a rule, your dog or cat may cavort in the mulch and leaf piles where ticks hide, then bring them inside to you and your family. If your landscape contains what may be considered--from a deer's perspective--delectable greens, perhaps you should think about "deer-proofing" it to discourage them. Deer are not attracted to some perennial herbs that most humans find pleasing, such as English lavender and yarrow. Asters, with flowers that resemble daisies, are not interesting to deer. Likewise, creeping Juniper, an evergreen, repels deer.

The opposing sides in this fight are, as is often the case, both a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Proximity to deer is clearly a hazard to people trying to avoid Lyme infection. However, destroying all deer in an attempt to solve the problem of Lyme disease is not realistic.