The black tailed deer of Angel Island

Angel Island has always had deer but the resident Coast Miwok Indians guaranteed that the population was kept under control. Scientists believe that deer swm across Racoon Strait from the Tiburon peninsula and keeping the population stable. After the Miwoks, the US Army controlled Angel Island for over one hundred years and allowed hunting on the island.

It wasn’t until 1964 when Angel Island became a state park that the number of deer began to increase. The Island is a square mile and isn’t home to any deer predators. When hunting was banned the deer population grew dramatically and quickly. In 1976 the park decided to reduce the herd. Fifty deer were shot. The transported carcasses were met by television crews in Sausalito. The bloody scene was broadcast across the Bay area that evening. The ensuing public response caused the State Park to halt the program and the island was soon overrun with deer again.

By 1981 it became clear that something had to be done. Several options were proposed: Introduce coyotes. Allow hunting by the rangers. Capture the deer and airlift them off the Island to safety. Unfortunately all of the above were discarded for various reasons although 215 deer were moved to the Mendocino National Forest. After just three months 50% of the deer were dead and by the end of the first year only 30 deer remained alive. The total cost was $100,000.

By 1984 the deer were overrunning the island again. The SPCA then started a sterilization program. They captured female deer and implanted birth control devices. But they kept catching the same does over and over.

Public hearings on the continuing deer problem began in 1985. One serious proposal was to introduce coyotes to the island. But the vision of deer being eaten by coyotes was too much for the SPCA and the general public.

Finally a consensus was reached. Angel Island rangers could reduce the herd by periodic hunting. Biologists estimate that a herd of 200 deer is the carrying capacity for Angel Island. Now the deer are more vigorous, healthier and never beg from the public. The venison is donated to St. Vincent de Paul to feed the hungry. The hides, hooves and antlers are saved and used in naturalist programs all over the state. Like the natives before them, the rangers waste nothing of the deer.

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