Increasing concern about deer-related problems indicates that deer populations in some areas of the county have exceeded an optimum density called the carrying capacity.
Carrying capacity can be determined by three different standards.
- Biological carrying capacity is the population density that cannot be supported by the available habitat. Catastrophic mortality, from such causes as starvation, stress, diseases and parasites, and reproductive failure, produce a dramatic decline in the population and poor health in the surviving individuals.
- Ecological carrying capacity is that deer density at which we see damage to the forest ecosystem, impacting the populations of plants and other wildlife species, forest regeneration and water quality.
- Cultural carrying capacity is reached when the deer population is high enough to cause widespread conflict with the nearby human population.
If nothing is done to stabilize or reduce the deer population, conflicts will likely increase with both citizens and deer suffering as a result. In Howard County, the cultural and ecological carrying capacities have apparently been exceeded, but we have not arrived at the biological carrying capacity on a widespread basis.