When Donna Davis started as a Maryland Department of Natural Resources forester in Carroll County more than 20 years ago, deer were not considered a threat to the young saplings being planted in woods, parks and conservation land.

"Years ago when we first started, we didn't have to use deer shelters at all to protect the seedlings," Davis said. "But as the deer herds have increased, there's more deer looking for something to eat, and then we had to start using shelters."

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The Carroll County Board of Commissioners is seeking a grant to reforest 1,000 trees on three acres at Piney Run Park that were planted in 2008 but have been wiped out by deer and drought.

"Either they're getting smarter and standing up on their hind legs or they're getting bigger," Davis said, "because now we have to use taller shelters - now we can barely get away with 5-foot shelters."

And farmers and homeowners see their share of crop, garden and tree damage from deer as well. In light of so much destruction from deer, the Carroll County Forestry Board decided to focus its annual winter workshop on the subject, calling the program "Oh Deer!"

The program is coordinated with the University of Maryland Extension, Carroll County Office, and is being held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. While the winter workshop has been held at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in the past, this year they have moved the program to the Community Media Center on Washington Road in Westminster, where portions of the program may be taped to be aired on the local cable channel in the future.

The keynote speaker is Dr. William McShea, a research scientist with the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

"McShea is world-renowned and has been to a lot of countries focusing on the human-animal interaction and impacts on the environment and on the forest environment," Davis said.

One of the biggest human impacts on the environment as it relates to the deer populations is the way that humans break up the forest into fragments through creating lots, building homes and creating fields.

"That fragmentation increases deer habitat because deer love edge, and it also can increase the spread of nonnative invasive plants because we plant them in our yards," Davis said.

Nonnative invasive plants are significant because once they get a foothold in an area, they can out-compete native plants due to lack of predators or characteristics that help them use the available resources more efficiently.

"The deer tend to focus on eating our native plants first because obviously that's what they evolved to do, so that reduces the regeneration of the native plants, which can affect the ecology of the woodland," she said. "Since you don't have the native plants competing for that space because the deer keep eating them down, then that gives the nonnative invasive plants a chance to thrive."

Native wildlife won't always turn to eating the nonnative invasives, she said, and even if they do, they may not get the same nutrient values from the nonnatives.

It has a snowballing effect, Davis said, and McShea will discuss those impacts.

Carolyn Puckett, program manager of the Weed Warriors Program in Carroll County, will discuss how her group tackles nonnative invasive plants by physically removing them from local woodlands.

George Timko, assistant Deer Project leader for the Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service, will discuss more specifics about the deer population in Maryland and deer management options.

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"He'll be there to talk about different aspects of deer control, one of which is hunting, but there are other ways too," Davis said.

Timko will discuss the pros and cons of different options, she said, and landowners will be encouraged to ask questions.

Other speakers include Jamie Weaver, a Maryland DNR watershed forester who will discuss the Backyard Buffers Program and how landowners with smaller acreage can get assistance with a streamside forest planting; Chuck Lewis, vice-president of the Maryland Tree Farm Committee who will discuss the Tree Farm Program in Maryland; and Jerry Brubach, an owner of a woodland and farmette in Carroll County who will talk about his current efforts to coordinate with neighboring landowners in order to accomplish common forest management goals.

Steve Allgeier, home horticulture specialist for the University of Maryland Extension, Carroll County Office, will give a talk on deer ticks and how to protect yourself from the Lyme disease they carry and can transmit.

"The deer and the deer tick are pretty closely enmeshed at this point," Allgeier said. "Deer really aren't fed on that readily by deer tick, but they act kind of as the mating site for the deer tick. If you can remedy one part of that life cycle, you should be able to at least help reduce deer tick populations and Lyme."

Allgeier said he will discuss changes you can make to your property to reduce the tick habitat, as well as how to protect yourself and your pets.

Registration for the program is required by 9 a.m. Tuesday, so interested parties are encouraged to call the extension office to RSVP as soon as possible.

Carrie Ann Knauer writes from Westminster. Contact her at carrie.knauer@gmail.com.
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