Catalina Island

Mule Deer Are Catalina’s Biggest Garden Pests


It’s the middle of summer during a four-year drought, and Catalina’s mule deer are desperately searching for dinner. Yes, they are the island’s biggest garden pest, nibbling on practically every green leaf they can find. Green leafs in peoples’ gardens and green leafs of plants in the island’s interior, the same plant species that the Catalina Island Conservancy is working so hard to protect.

The deer were brought to the island in 1928 and the 1930’s to promote tourism through hunting. Hunting did not prove successful in the 1930s, nor has it ever been a successful in managing the herd size, which has grown to about 2,400 deer.

The island’s mild weather, with no winter snow, have given the mule deer the perfect environment not only to live, but thrive. In this day and age the introduction of deer would never be allowed on ecologically distinct places, like Catalina Island. On the island, the deer have no natural predators, and are virtual grazing machines.

During the summer months when the interior is dry and food is getting scarce, the deer start dining in town, where they can find tender leafy garden plants and sometimes a hand-out from a human. But during this drought they seem to be in Avalon year round looking for their next meal, and in daylight hours too.

If you are fighting a losing battle with the island’s deer to keep your garden, try planting deer resistant plants. Although, if deer get hungary enough they’ll eat just about anything, even  plants that they normally pass by. They normally pass on drought resistant plants, which is what everyone should be planting during this time of extreme drought, as Catalina Island is in Stage-2 of water conservation and approaching Stage-3. Once established, drought resistant plants require very little water, and are a win-win situation, as you can save water while having an attractive garden the deer won’t eat.

Story Credit: Barbara Crow

Photo Credit: Jim Lehr