The Nature Conservancy calls for a state policy to reduce deer numbers

Stephen R. Patton, Ph.D., Director of Landscape Programs

In Support of Bill 5852 – AAC The Control of Lyme Disease 
 
Testimony of Stephen R. Patton, Ph. D., 
Director of Landscape Programs 
 
Before the Environment Committee – March 10, 2008 
 
On behalf of The Nature Conservancy with 32,000 members in Connecticut, I am here 
today to urge your favorable consideration of Bill 5852 - AAC The Control of Lyme Disease. 
While the Conservancy’s mission is to preserve the plants, animals, and natural 
communities that represent the diversity of life by protecting the lands and waters they need 
to survive, this particular legislation is an example where our ecological objectives coincide 
with public health objectives. I’d like to direct my remarks to the effects that deer are having 
on the ecology of Connecticut’s forests and offer some suggestions on how to reduce these 
threats.   
 
The overabundance of deer in Connecticut poses a significant threat to the health and 
vitality of Connecticut’s forests.  Although deer were nearly extirpated in Connecticut 100 
years ago, sound management practices adopted by the Connecticut Department of 
Environmental Protection helped restore deer populations in the State. The success of 
those practices, however, and other important factors have resulted in a deer population 
that is now in many places two to six times larger than what our forests can sustain over the 
long term.  
 
The Nature Conservancy is acutely aware of the fact that deer overabundance has already 
had significant deleterious effects on some of the forest sites where we work including 
forests within the Saugatuck and Eightmile river watersheds.  It is likely that deer 
overabundance is having a similar effect, though perhaps not as severe, on other forested 
landscapes in Connecticut. 

Numerous studies conducted throughout the northeast including at the Conservancy’s 
Burnham Brook Preserve by the late Dr. Richard Goodwin of Connecticut College have 
demonstrated the serious effects of deer overabundance on the forested landscape.  
Wildflowers and other plants have been nearly eliminated from the forest floor.   Forest 
shrubs and trees are unable to grow and spread because they are either unable to survive 
the effects of severe grazing by deer or are stunted and unable to grow to a normal size that 
is beyond the reach of deer.  Deer overabundance simplifies the ecology of our forests by 
eliminating many of the plants that can not tolerate repeated grazing.  The loss of forest 
plants eliminates food and nesting places for many of the forest dwelling animals including 
small birds and mammals.   

The Nature Conservancy supports Bill 5852 AAC The Control of Lyme Disease and makes 
the following recommendations.   

First, we recommend that DEP conduct a thorough reevaluation of Connecticut’s deer 
management program and its objectives, incorporating the most current scientific thinking 
about the ecological relationships of deer with their natural habitats as well as the 
relationship between deer and Lyme disease.  
Second, we recommend that DEP establish goals for forest health and with the Department 
of Public Health, set goals for reducing the occurrence of Lyme Disease in Connecticut. 
And Third, we recommend that DEP consider a range of new incentives to increase the 
annual harvest of deer in Connecticut and reduce the deer population to a level that is 
consistent with the goals established for forest health and Lyme Disease.