Are there too many deer on Jekyll Island State Park?

The Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) has overestimated the size of the deer population on Jekyll Island.

  • The majority of the island, including nearly all of the maritime forest, was not surveyed in the spotlight counts used to calculate deer numbers.
  • The spotlight surveys counted deer in food-rich areas, where deer numbers are relatively large, and then projected that same concentration of deer to areas of the island which were not surveyed and where deer exist in far fewer numbers. 
  • A  survey of Jekyll’s golf courses, roadway edges and landscaped areas, where the vast majority of the deer browse, will give the false impression that the entire island has a lot of deer, which is NOT the case. 

Is artificial reduction of the deer population by lethal means is necessary?

Nature has been ‘managing’ deer populations for countless centuries.

  • Over time, deer numbers go up and own within a given area in accord with a host of factors, including food availability, weather, disease and aging. Sick, weak and elderly deer die off while others live on, improving the overall health of the deer herd in the process.
  • Dynamic by nature, there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ level for deer population but rather an ongoing, natural cycle governed by a host of conditions and factors.  
  • The federal shooters from Wildlife Services the JIA proposes to hire to kill deer will shoot deer irrespective of their health condition and disrupt the natural selection process that has controlled deer numbers for centuries. Costly and controversial, the Wildlife Services deer kill program is not for Jekyll Island State Park, which is supposed to be a wildlife sanctuary.

Are deer hindering forest regeneration and contributing to biodiversity loss?

Jekyll’s deer have co-existed with the island’s forest for centuries.

  • Forest plants will show signs of deer browsing, but that’s a natural condition that has not, over time, suppressed forest regeneration or damaged biodiversity. If that weren’t true, the forest would have been destroyed by deer long ago.
  • In trying to gauge deer impacts on the maritime forest, the JIA is placing stock in a spatially limited, short-term survey while ignoring other factors that affect forest regeneration, including weather, disease and shading caused by the dense understory of saw palmettos and by the forest’s canopy.
  • By nature, forest conditions are dynamic. A snapshot of current conditions within the forest does not provide valid grounds for conclusions on deer impacts or population management.

Additional Points to Consider

  • Deer feeding in JIA landscaped and residential areas is fueling the claim that deer are a “nuisance species” on Jekyll Island.  It’s unreasonable to plant vegetation deer can’t resist and then blame them for eating it.  Planting vegetation deer find distasteful makes more sense. 
  • The Jekyll Island Conservation Plan says: “Jekyll Island provides protected habitat for an abundance of wildlife including deer, raccoon, alligators, foxes, and many species of birds.” The JIA bills Jekyll Island as a wildlife preserve and is trying to promote nature tourism on the island -- how does killing deer fit the wildlife sanctuary image the JIA is promoting? 
  • Contracting with Wildlife Services is a ticket to a public relations disaster.  Examples of the cruelty, irresponsibility and lack of transparency of this federal agency abound. The JIA can’t afford to be associated with this agency.
  • Once implemented, deer kill programs must be continued year after year in order to keep deer numbers down. Money is very tight for the JIA. The cost of killing deer annually is something the JIA can’t afford.  Mother Nature can ‘manage’ deer numbers for free.
  • Governor Deal, whose bid for reelection is in trouble, must be urged to tell his JIA board appointees that the proposed deer kill program is wrong for Jekyll. He’s the state’s chief executive and the boss of the JIA board -- the ‘buck’ stops at his desk….  To deliver a message to Gov. Deal, call 404-656-1776.