Urban deer damage costs property owners in the city of Weirton (population 22,124) a good deal of money. Property owners in this Northern Panhandle city estimated their total deer damage cost at $1,447,584 in 1998. This amounts to $150.13 per household. The estimates for plant damage, control costs, and vehicle damage were reported in a survey conducted by the WVU Extension Service Hancock County Office.
The survey was created by Hancock County Extension Agent Leanne Moorman with assistance from William Grafton and Edmond Collins, two other Extension faculty members based on the WVU campus in Morgantown. It was published by the Weirton Daily Times on Dec. 16, 1998. An editorial by the newspaper asked for citizens to respond to the questions.
More than 100 of the newspaper surveys were completed and deposited in "deer survey" boxes located in post offices and other public buildings. The compiled information was shared with the Hancock County Commissioners, who agreed to fund a random-sample survey of Weirtons 9,642 households.
The Hancock County Extension Office mailed the survey to 385 randomly selected addresses (4 % of the housing units) on May 12, 1999. After a follow-up mailing and telephone interviews, a total of 300 households completed the survey, a 78% return rate. More than half (56%) of the people returning the survey were males. Only 12% were farmers.
The survey showed that 39% of property owners had experienced damage attributed to deer; 61% reported no deer damage. The estimated total deer damage cost to Weirton property owners in 1998 of $1,447,584 would amount to $150.13 for every household if the cost was shared equally. However, the actual average cost was $384.99 since only 39% (3,760) of the property owners had damages caused by deer.
Nearly 70% of those answering the survey reported seeing deer on their property in 1998. Some 47% of the property owners thought that the deer population should be decreased, 30% thought it should stay the same, and 3% thought it should be increased.
Property owners estimated their deer-damage costs in the following areas: shrubs ($380,864); vegetable gardens ($89,458); small fruits ($23,345); tree fruits ($49,792); flower beds ($208,966); lawns ($92,103); landscaping trees ($276,576); and vehicles ($326,480).
Although 50% of property owners felt that deer damage is not acceptable on their property, 33% were willing to deal with some deer damage, and 2% were willing to deal with any amount of deer damage.
According to the survey, 15% of the households have tried some type of control; fencing is the one used most often. Most controls (fencing, repellent, shooting, scaring materials, dogs, etc.) were not successful.
None of the measures taken by Weirton property owners seem to have deterred deer from causing damages totaling nearly $1.5 million a year.
For more complete information about this issue, contact Leanne Moorman, Hancock County extension agent, at 304/564-3805, or WVU Hancock County Extension Office, 802 N Chestnut Street, P.O. Box 457, New Cumberland, WV 26047-0457.