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Too Many Deer!

A Case Study in Managing Urban Deer Herds


Eric Ribbens
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University


A town meeting is the setting for this case study in which students explore the topics of overpopulation, bioethics, and management of urban wildlife. The case makes use of role playing, small group discussion, interrupted case techniques, and critical analytical reflective papers to enable students to examine a common urban forest management problem. Hidden within the examination of making decisions about deer herds is a set of questions that brings out the scientific method and its application. Although developed for a non-majors biology course, by restructuring some of the activities and asking different questions the case could be successfully used in an introductory biology course for majors, an ecology course, a conservation biology seminar, or a course on bioethics.


  • To experience and explore a situation in which science, management, and the public all interconnect.
  • To examine the negative effects of a species on its ecosystem.
  • To identify and evaluate the feasibility of alternative solutions and consider the practical difficulties of making and implementing decisions within the context of multiple stakeholders.
  • To explore the interface between bioethics and planning based on scientific information.
  • To apply the scientific method by identifying the problem, identifying possible solutions, seeking additional information, and making a decision about which possible solution should be applied.


Urban wildlife; deer; wildlife management; overpopulation; conservation; bioethics

Topical Areas

Ethics, Scientific method

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods

Public Hearing, Role-Play, Dilemma/Decision



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Ecology  |   Wildlife Management  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Eric Ribbens
Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL
AUTHOR UPDATE: I just got off the phone with the Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve naturalist. He tells me that they harvested no deer in 2008, six deer in 2009, and again only six deer in 2010 (due to problems filing the necessary permits). The deer have apparently learned to avoid the corn bait piles during the daytime, and they don't do the herd reduction at night. The current estimate is 28 deer, and the heavy browse line I remember seeing is reportedly gone.