Palmetto Dunes is one of many communities across the country struggling with the issue of an expanding deer population, the shrinking habitat where the deer can safely graze, and the resulting health and safety issues. While deer add to the overall wildlife community in Palmetto Dunes, overpopulation of deer can be associated with vehicular accidents, ticks (lyme disease) and vegetative destruction, both natural and landscaping.
In 2014, the PDPOA started receiving feedback from owners that there is an increasing number of deer in the resort. With the changing community structure of fewer empty lots for the deer to feed on, they are being pushed onto private properties. Particular concerns have been expressed regarding deer eating ornamental plants in people’s yards and on common property and the potential danger to motorists from the growing deer population. In discussions with other Hilton Head Island communities, we found that many have annual deer management programs to control the growing deer population. The PDPOA management began talking with these communities, along with wildlife consultants about the process of implementing a deer management program.
Our first step was to engage Folk Land Management to conduct spotlight deer surveys. Spotlight surveys are utilized to estimate deer density on a given area by observing deer at night along a predetermined route and utilizing a known area of visibility to calculate the estimated number of acres per deer seen during the survey.
Spotlight surveys are not designed to count a total deer population but to sample an area and the deer numbers found there. Multiple counts along a repeated route provide for more reliable information on deer density. From over 25 years of experience, Folk Land Management has determined that two consecutive nights during annual surveys provide reliable information while remaining cost-effective. Repeated annual surveys provide long term information (an index) about deer densities on an area. Palmetto Dunes had surveys conducted in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Results from Folk Land Management’s fall 2019 deer spotlight survey showed that the deer density for Palmetto Dunes was high, and they recommended the culling of 25 deer to control the population. SCDNR reviewed Folk Land Management’s survey and findings, and approved permits and tags for removing 25 deer from Palmetto Dunes.
During last week’s PDPOA Board Meeting, the board had a lengthy discussion in their open meeting regarding a deer management program for Palmetto Dunes. The board reviewed the assessment on deer culling in Palmetto Dunes which included spotlight survey results, the General Deer Spotlight Protocol from Folk Land Management, as well as documentation communicated to the Town of Hilton Head Island. The board also discussed the qualifications and safety procedures/protocol of the recommended service provider to conduct the deer culling. After reviewing and discussing all of the research, the board voted to create a deer population management program with the first phase being the implementation of a cull as recommended by Folk Land Management.
Communities across the nation are struggling to achieve a balance between emotion and practicality in addressing the deer population problem, for there is no simple answer. The PDPOA Board does not place the beauty of a landscaped yard above the life of a deer. As the deer population grows, the safety and health risks in our community are their primary concern.
Why have a cull now?
The reason for the cull is to proactively address potential safety issues, as overpopulation can be associated with vehicular accidents and disease. The Board has an obligation to preserve the safety of the community, and took this action as a health and safety issue. The state of South Carolina restricts deer culls to the months of January or February. Any delay moving forward with a cull effectively delays it for another year.
Are there alternatives?
Relocation of deer is not permitted by SCDNR. Archery creates a host of other issues, primarily humaneness and the fact that arrowed deer may run 100 yards or more before succumbing. Initial indications are that sterilization doesn’t work in individual herds and would need to be done Island-wide to be successful.
Who performs a cull?
The cull will be facilitated by a professional who has worked with Sea Pines, Leamington, Hilton Head Plantation, as well as many other communities on and off-island for over 20 years. He has a proven track record of providing deer management services and has safely and humanely removed deer from 16 communities in South Carolina. The cull is anticipated to take two evenings between 10pm and 3am.
Isn’t tranquilizing and euthanizing more humane than shooting the deer?
The state of South Carolina requires culled deer meat be donated to charity. Since tranquilized deer cannot be consumed by humans, this is not an option that can be pursued.
What happens to the deer meat?
The deer meat is donated to a local food bank.
What is the cost of a cull?
The projected cost of the cull and processing 25 deer is $4,375.
Has the cull already happened?
No. There has never been a cull in Palmetto Dunes.
This is an emotional topic for many owners, why weren’t we at least polled for our opinion?
While we have not had a high rate of motor vehicle incidents or lyme disease associated with deer in the past, the board needs to proactively be concerned with potential emerging safety concerns. In this instance, the board felt it needed to accept the expert’s advice to conduct a cull to manage the population.
Is this a one-time event or should we expect a cull every year?
Many communities, both on and off-island, have implemented an annual cull as part of their deer management program. Our deer management program is expected to develop a recommendation regarding which alternatives are most effective in managing any future deer overpopulation.
The Board is moving forward with implementing a deer management program and will be providing additional information and education.