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Deer Causing Car Crashes And Other Mayhem in New York As Climate Warms Up

A deer stands in a suburb street with two red cars in the background.
Source: Amaury Laporte/Wikimedia

In New York, mild winters, warmer temperatures, and human development have created the perfect conditions for an assumed expansion in the deer population which is having devastating effects on residents.

In 2023, New York experienced a record year for deer-related car crashes. In October, the Empire State had already experienced 36,743 deer-related incidents, which tied the previous record set in 2018 with months left to go in the year.

Cases of Lyme disease, an illness caused by ticks that feed on deer, have been surging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers it the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. The latest numbers from the CDC say that there were 62,000 Lyme disease cases in 2022. However, experts think this number is much higher, nearly half a million per year, because only a fraction of cases are actually reported. In New York, 7,000 residents reportedly fall ill from the disease every year.

Deer are also a nuisance to crops and farmers. 83% of farmers in New York list deer as one of their top three species when asked for culprits of crop damage.

Professor Bernd Blossey from Cornell University warns that deer incidents are becoming more common because humans have created the ideal conditions in gardens, farms, and parks across the state that provide valuable food sources to sustain them.

“The deer come to us because what we have created is perfect deer habitat,” Blossey said.

Blossey thinks that the deer will eventually reach an equilibrium, but that depends on how humans decide to manage the land.

“If we are not doing anything, deer will eat themselves out of house and home and that will limit deer populations,” Blossey said. “However, one thing we are doing is growing crops and gardens, and large deer populations in suburban and urban areas are subsidized by us.”

This is quite the comeback story for the animal, which was nearly wiped out in the 19th century in America after uncontrolled hunting exterminated 95% of the country’s deer population.

In the years since then, New York was one of the states that tried to implement environmental initiatives to rapidly replenish the deer population. It seems to have worked too well.

The state says that deer are now overabundant, and have transitioned from existing solely in the forest to living in “transition zones” where they can find abundant food before retreating to safety.

Humans eliminating more wild areas of forest has reduced the population of deer’s primary predators, wolves and mountain lions. With fewer natural predators, the deer population is thought to have exploded relatively unchecked.

The government of New York is attempting to fight back, recruiting hunters to exterminate populations of deer to turn the tide. However, a declining interest in hunting has made it difficult to make progress on this front.

And even those hunters who do participate prefer to hunt bucks for their antlers. Hunting males is an inefficient way to manage the population, as one male can impregnate multiple females. Targeting does would be a more effective strategy, but females don’t have the good antler trophies that hunters desire.

Deer are also settling in the suburbs and the cities, places that now contain overflowing food sources for them and are an easy way to hide from hunters.

Biologists think that deer populations in the northeast are thriving thanks to the effects of rising temperatures from a warming climate. Areas that were once too cold for deer to exist in are now warm enough for them to spread out and take over.


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