Hunting deer won't eradicate Lyme

Each Tuesday and Thursday through the end of February, the sound of sharpshooters hunting white-tailed deer will echo through the neighborhoods of suburban New Jersey. The deer overpopulate, eat the trees, and pose a traffic hazard. They also spread Lyme disease.

Intelligent management of the deer population is necessary for many reasons. However, it isn't prudent to assume that by killing the deer we can eradicate the spread of Lyme. Preventing the spread of Lyme disease, which is believed to be caused by the bite of a Ixode tick, is more complex than getting rid of the deer. While it's true that deer make excellent hosts, roaming and foraging in the brush where ticks are likely to be waiting for a ride, it is also a fact that even if the deer population was to altogether disappear, ticks would continue to survive simply by looking elsewhere for their immediate needs.

Birds, mice, and other rodents make a perfectly acceptable meal ticket for the lowly tick, who isn't picky. A tiny tick can only move within a limited space: about a nine foot range. Ticks generally occupy a space from the ground up to about three feet, clinging to grasses and brush, which is why it is important to wear protective clothing and use caution when you walk or hike through forested areas. They are intent on finding a host who can give them what they need to survive, and any convenient warm-blooded animal who ventures close enough to offer a ride and a hot supper will do. It doesn't need to be a deer.