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Deer and Elk Damage and Management

Deer and Elk Damage and Management

Corvallis, OR, Field Station

photo of deer in pen

Elk and deer (two ungulate species) cause the most widespread damage to forest resources. Elk may trample or pull seedlings without well-established root systems out of the ground. Browsing elk often splinter woody stems. During the spring, the stems may be stripped of bark below where they break the stem. Deer damage inflicted on seedlings is similar to elk damage. Woody stems are often splintered and the bark is stripped from twigs. New buds are generally clipped back to the previous year's growth. Deer do not pull seedlings as frequently as elk and their damage rarely occurs above 6 feet.

Damage Management Methods

  • Planting seedlings immediately after a site is disturbed (e.g., by harvesting the trees) before ungulates become accustomed to foraging in that area—economical but not always feasible; ineffective where surrounding areas contain large ungulate populations.
  • Hunting to suppress deer populations—often impractical to solve specific problems.
  • Fencing to impede ungulate movements—can be cost prohibitive to install and maintain.
  • Tubes and other individual barriers—can be expensive, but when properly installed, tubes can protect seedlings from most wildlife species. Where ungulate populations are high and consistent, individual barriers may be reasonable long-term alternatives to reduce browsing.
  • Frightening devices, such as propane cannons and scarecrows—generally ineffective.
  • Chemical repellents—will deter ungulates, but rarely for prolonged periods. Thus, repeated applications are generally necessary.


Traditional frightening devices, as listed above, are generally ineffective to deter ungulates for prolonged periods. However, devices activated by an animal's presence are generally more effective than permanent or routine displays. Further, a device affixed to an individual animal may generate responses from those individuals, and possibly from accompanying animals of the same species (conspecifics). For example, a device affixed to a matriarch elk that activates a signal (e.g., strobe and siren) and after a couple seconds delivers a mild shock to the matriarch may be very effective in inhibiting this animal from remaining in a protected site. Accompanying conspecifics pairing these signals with distress displayed by their leader also may avoid the area.

Electric collars and ear tags have shown promise for deterring cattle from protected areas, such as riparian zones. Although effective, current technology prohibits operational use of these devices to deter deer and elk from target areas. Technology more applicable for prolonged use with these animals is being pursued by field station scientists.

An improved understanding of deer and elk foraging ecology may help to reduce browsing on establishing seedlings. All plants contain toxins, and the amount of toxin an animal can ingest depends on the kinds and amounts of nutrients and toxins in the forage. Field station researchers are trying to determine if nutritional status of deer and elk affects their preference for Douglas-fir seedlings. Supplemental energy and protein increases the ability of animals to eat foods that contain toxins. Thus, supplemental nutrients offer the potential to increase intake of plants habitually avoided or to decrease intake of plants habitually eaten. Other, studies are investigating potential to select for western red cedar genotypes that may be less preferred by deer because of high terpene concentrations.

Field station biologists are also working to identify feasible approaches to exclude animals from sites. Alternative fence designs have been investigated. In addition, scientists at the station routinely evaluate efficacy of marketed repellents. Concurrently, scientists are conducting parallel behavioral and chemical assays to identify potential natural aversive agents for new repellents.

The legal status of wildlife species and subspecies may vary by state. Some wildlife damage management methods mentioned here may not be legal, permitted, or appropriate in your area. Please check with personnel from your state wildlife agency and local officials to determine if methods are acceptable and allowed.

*the above discussion is summarized from the following article by Dale L.Nolte. Click on the link to see the full-text of the article.

NOLTE, D. L. 2003. Managing ungulates to protect trees. Western Forester 48(4):14. 76K

Olympia Field Station Deer and Elk Publications

04-NOLTE, D. L., B. A. KIMBALL, K. R. PERRY, J. J. VILLALBA, AND F. D. PROVENZA. 2004. Effects of forage nutritional quality (energy and protein) on deer acceptance of foods containing secondary metabolites. Proceedings of the Vertebrate Pest Conference 21:338-245. 681K

03-68 NOLTE, D. L. 2003. Fencing out big game species. Western Forester 48(4):19. 62K

03-73 NOLTE, D. L., K. C. VERCAUTEREN, K. R. PERRY, AND S. E. ADAMS. 2003. Training deer to avoid sites through negative reinforcement. Pages 95-104 in K. A. Fagerstone, and G. W. Witmer editors. Proceedings of the 10th Wildlife Damage Management Conference. (April 6-9, 2003, Hot Springs, Arkansas). The Wildlife Damage Management Working Group of The Wildlife Society, Fort Collins, Colorado.

01-53 NOLTE, D. L., L. A. SHIPLEY, AND K. K. WAGNER. 2001. Efficacy of Wolfin to repel black-tailed deer. Western Journal of Applied Forestry 16(4):182-186.

01-82 WAGNER , K. K., AND D. L. NOLTE. 2001. Comparison of active ingredients and delivery systems in deer repellents. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29:322-330.

01-91 TRENT, A., D. NOLTE, AND K. WAGNER. 2001. Comparison of commercial deer repellents. U.S. Forest Service Technology & Development Program Timber Tech Tips 0124-2331-MTDC. U.S. Forest Service, Missoula, Montana, USA.

00-52 NOLTE, D. L., AND K. K. WAGNER. 2000. Comparing the efficacy of delivery systems and active ingredients of deer repellents. Proceedings: Vertebrate Pest Conference 19:93-100.

99-28 HOWERY, L. D., D. L. NOLTE, L. M. SULLIVAN, AND M. W. KILBY. July- September 1999. Sensory attributes, phytotoxicity, and production of grape cultivars after treatment with two deer repellents. HortTechnology 9(3):429-432.

99-50 NOLTE, D. 1999. Behavioral approaches for limiting depredation by wild ungulates. Pages 60-69 in K.L. Launchbaugh., D. Sanders., and J.C. Mosley. editors. Grazing behavior of livestock and wildlife. Idaho Forest, Wildlife & Range Experiment Station Bulletin 70. University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

98-73 NOLTE, D. L. 1998. Efficacy of selected repellents to deter deer browsing on conifer seedlings. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 42(2-3):101-107.

Additional NWRC Resources Concerning Deer/Elk and Forest Resources

03-14 BERINGER, J., K. C. VERCAUTEREN, AND J. J. MILLSPAUGH. 2003. Evaluation of an animal-activated scarecrow and a monofilament fence for reducing deer use of soybean fields. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31(2):492-498.

03-97 VERCAUTEREN, K. 2003. The deer boom: discussions on population growth and range expansion of the white-tailed deer. Pages 15-20 in G. Hisey and K. Hisey, editors. Bowhunting records of North American whitetail deer. Pope and Young Club, Chatfield, Minnesota, USA.

03-98 VERCAUTEREN, K. C., S. E. HYGNSTROM, M. J. PIPAS, P. B. FIORANELLI, S. J. WERNER, AND B. F. BLACKWELL. 2003. Red lasers are ineffective for dispersing deer at night. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31(1):247-252.

03-101 VERCAUTEREN, K. C., AND M. J. PIPAS. 2003. A review of color vision in white-tailed deer. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31(3):684-691.

00-6 BELANT, J. L., AND T. W. SEAMANS. 2000. Comparison of 3 devices to observe white-tailed deer at night. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28:154-158.

00-48 MOSER, B. W., AND G. W. WITMER. 2000. The effects of elk and cattle foraging on the vegetation, birds, and small mammals of the Bridge Creek Wildlife Area, Oregon. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 45:151-157.

98-7 BELANT, J. L., T. W. SEAMANS, AND C. P. DWYER. 1998. Cattle guards reduce white-tailed deer crossings through fence openings. International Journal of Pest Management 44(4):247-249.

98-8 BELANT, J. L., T. W. SEAMANS, AND L. A. TYSON. 1998. Evaluation of electronic frightening devices as white-tailed deer deterrents. Proceedings of the Vertebrate Pest Conference 18:107-110.

98-9 BELANT, J. L., T. W. SEAMANS, AND L. A. TYSON. 1998. Predator urines as chemical barriers to white-tailed deer. Proceedings of the Vertebrate Pest Conference 18:359-362.

97-29 FAGERSTONE, K. A., AND W. H. CLAY. 1997. Overview of USDA animal damage control efforts to manage overabundant deer. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25:413-417.

97-96 WITMER, G. W., R. D. SAYLER, AND M. J. PIPAS. 1997. Repellent trials to reduce reforestation damage by pocket gophers, deer, and elk. Pages 321-332 in J. R. Mason, editor. Repellents in Wildlife Management. Denver Wildlife Research Center, Denver, Colorado.

Mammalian Impacts on Forest Resources Research Project
More NWRC Publications on Deer and Elk Topics
Olympia Field Station Home Page
Mountain Beaver Damage and Management
Bear Damage and Management
Pocket Gopher Damage and Management
Fencing for Deer and Elk
Porcupines, Voles, Rabbits, Hares, Pikas
Repellent Use in Protecting Forest Resources


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