Image credit: Sami Grover
Intuitively, I've never been to fond of fences. Symbolically, they were always a reminder of humans' tendency to dominate nature, and on a practical level they seemed like they would restrict the movement of wildlife and prevent access to important habitat. But last year, having watched my gardens decimated by deer for a number of years, my wife and I decided to invest in a deer fence. I have been amazed at how it has transformed our yard from an aesthetic perspective. But what really had me surprised was just how much it seems to have benefited wildlife too.
The Environmental Impact of Deer Over-Population
Deer are a major environmental influence where we live. They graze everything. And while the debate over hunting as a legitimate form of population control will most likely run on and on, the fact is that deer do not just limit humans' ability to grow what they want to grow, but they can severely damage wildflowers and domesticated blooms that bees and other pollinators rely on for survival.
My wife and I already had a smaller deer fence around our vegetable garden (infrastructural investment is a central plank of lazivore methodology) as it is next to impossible to grow edible plants without one here in North Carolina. But having deliberated on the ethics of fencing our entire yard in, we eventually decided that we had little choice if we wanted to grow anything but the most deer-resistant of plants. (I tend to find "deer resistant" is a relative term anyway.)
A Deer Fence Protects Biodiversity
The immediate benefits to us were obvious. We were able to plant a blueberry patch. My comfrey planted around the compost heap started to thrive. And my Asian pear trees no long looked like upright chew sticks. But what has struck me most is how may blooms have appeared—both in our gardens themselves, and in surrounding woodland. Spring beauty always seemed to survive deer predation anyway, but now it is accompanied by a host of other wildflowers that I have yet to identify.
Pollinators Rely on Flowers
And as you might expect, where flowers appear, bees, butterflies and other pollinators soon follow. Given the pressing urgency of Colony Collapse Disorder, and the staggering decline in some bumblebee and butterfly populations, it has been a delight to watch (and hear) the bees, wasps, butterflies and dragon flies that have descended on our yard. Happily, I'm now also able to fill up spare space in ornamental beds with bee-friendly seed mixes of annuals, and I can hardly wait to see our furry flying friends snacking on those once they mature.
Image credit: Sami Grover
The folks at Piedmont Environmental who installed our deer fence always argued that it would have important environmental benefits—most notably in protecting native plants and pollinators—but I was not prepared for how dramatic a transformation it would be. And while I was concerned about the impact such an installation might have on wildlife, my worries have proven largely unfounded.
Do Deer Fences Restrict Other Wildlife?
Birds are obviously left unhindered (and presumably enjoy snacking on seed heads and the burgeoning insect population), squirrels still snack on anything and everything they can, and we're receiving regular visits to our chicken coop from a rather sizable possum. Frogs are everywhere, and I've yet to find anything tangled in the fence. My one concern is turtles—which have previously been spotted in the yard from time-to-time coming up from the creek in the woods. I'll be keeping an eye out to see if they are stopped in their tracks, or whether they slip under without a problem.
It's easy to assume that when we humans impose ourselves on the environment, the result will always be negative. But the fact is that we are—whether we recognize it or not—part of the ecosystems that surround us. Careful interaction with those systems sometimes means keeping some creatures out—and creating room for others to thrive in the process.