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Virginia Deer Management Plan, 2015–2024

Executive Summary

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) garner more interest than any other wildlife species in Virginia. Many Virginians relish the chance to hunt, watch, or photograph this graceful mammal. The economic impact of deer hunting in Virginia is over $500 million annually. However, deer also inflict millions of dollars in damage to crops, trees, and gardens and are a safety risk on our highways. As large herbivores (plant-eaters), deer also have a profound impact on natural ecosystems.

Active deer management is necessary to maintain deer populations at optimum levels to meet the needs of citizens of the Commonwealth. An optimum deer population balances positive demands (e.g., hunting, viewing) with negative demands (e.g., agricultural damage, vehicle collisions, ecosystem impacts). The Virginia Deer Management Plan identifies areas where deer populations should be managed to increase, decrease, or remain the same.

The first Virginia Deer Management Plan, completed in 1999, has been revised twice, during 2005–2006 and 2014–2015, through the involvement of stakeholders and managers of deer. Biological principles continue to play a major role in the success of deer management programs, but meaningful stakeholder involvement is also necessary. Because DWR’s mission is “to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” the processes used to develop and revise the deer plan incorporated public values (e.g., economic, sociological, and political) and biological considerations.

The Virginia Deer Management Plan is intended to embody the interests of all Virginians. Deer stakeholders focused on making value choices about deer management, while wildlife professionals focused on the technical aspects. A 15-member Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) represented a cross section of stakeholders: hunters, agricultural producers, homeowners, forest landowners, animal and ecological health interests, vehicle drivers, and local, state, and federal agencies. The SAC was responsible for identifying the goals that should drive deer management. DWR staff with technical expertise in deer management designed objectives and strategies based on values identified by the SAC. Additional public values were considered via stakeholder surveys and advertisement of the draft plan for broad public review. Deer managers and researchers external to DWR provided a technical review of the draft plan. The plan was presented to, and endorsed by, the DWR Board of Directors on October 15, 2015.

The revised Virginia Deer Management Plan will guide deer management across the Commonwealth through 2024. This plan describes the history of white-tailed deer management, current status (supply and demand) of the deer resource and management programs, and the future of the deer management program in Virginia. The plan identifies a framework of what needs to be done, how it should be done, and when it should be done. Guided by the DWR mission, the Virginia Deer Management Plan includes four goals which specify the general directions for deer populations, deer-related recreation, deer-related damage, and deer habitat. Specific objectives help guide the attainment of each goal. Potential strategies then clarify how each objective could be achieved, but without delving into the operational details. By clarifying goals and directions of deer management, this plan will assist the DWR Board of Directors, DWR administrators and staff, and the public in addressing deer issues.

Following are the mission, goals, and brief summaries of objectives for deer management in Virginia over the next 10 years. Full objectives and strategies are presented toward the end of this document.

Mission for Deer Management: Sustainably manage white-tailed deer as a wild, free-roaming public resource to serve the needs and interests of all citizens of the Commonwealth. Manage deer populations, deer habitat, deer-related recreation, and deer damage using approaches that are innovative, flexible, proactive, transparent, technically sound, scientifically sound, ethical, ecologically responsible, and more natural than artificial.

Population Goal: Manage local deer populations to balance the varied needs and reasonable expectations of a diverse human community (cultural carrying capacity), the requirements of a biologically diverse ecosystem, and the anticipated future social/ecosystem demands. Hunting is the preferred population management method, where appropriate and feasible.

Objectives, with associated strategies, direct DWR to:

  • Meet deer population objectives within 5 years;
  • Monitor deer population status by management unit (county/city);
  • Update deer population objectives (as frequently as 2 years);
  • Use hunting as the primary deer population management tool;
  • Manage limiting factors to attaining deer population objectives;
  • Develop/continue site-specific deer management programs (e.g., DMAP, urban archery);
  • Increase stakeholder support for deer population management through education and engagement.

Recreation Goal: Provide and promote quality deer-related recreational opportunities for all citizens that are safe, diverse, accessible, and consistent with deer population and damage goals. Preserve the heritage and tradition of observing and hunting deer for both management and recreational benefits. Ensure that deer-related recreation methods are sportsmanlike and ethical and that those methods are consistent with and respect the rights of private property owners and other citizens.

Objectives, with associated strategies, direct DWR to:

  • Maintain current deer viewing opportunities;
  • Reduce deer hunting accidents;
  • Maintain current deer hunter participation by weapon type;
  • Manage deer hunter satisfaction at levels above “adequate”;
  • Ensure that deer hunting methods are fair and sportsmanlike;
  • Ensure that deer-related recreation respects rights of private property owners and other citizens;
  • Increase stakeholder support for deer-related recreation through education and engagement.

Damage Goal: Manage deer damage (e.g., agricultural, residential, ecosystem, vehicular, forestry, animal health, human health and safety, other impacts) at local and regional scales consistent with deer population objectives. Promote shared public/agency responsibility for managing deer damage. Hunting is the preferred damage management method when lethal approaches are necessary, where appropriate and feasible.

Objectives, with associated strategies, direct DWR to:

  • Quantify deer damage and tolerance for deer damage;
  • Reduce agricultural deer damage;
  • Reduce residential deer damage;
  • Reduce deer-vehicle collisions;
  • Reduce ecological impacts from deer;
  • Minimize deer-related diseases that impact humans or domestic animals;
  • Develop policies and protocols for using alternatives when deer hunting is not feasible or acceptable;
  • Increase stakeholder support for managing deer damage through education and engagement.

Habitat Goal: Manage deer habitat compatible with deer population, recreation, and damage goals while working within the constraints of diverse land ownerships and ecosystems.

Objectives, with associated strategies, direct DWR to:

  • Update/evaluate deer habitat status;
  • Identify where deer habitat is limiting factor;
  • Promote deer habitat management needed to achieve population, recreation, and damage goals;
  • Increase stakeholder support for deer habitat management through education and engagement.