Catalina battling deer population explosion

Deer in town. Photo by David N. Young

There is a bit of a tug-of-war going on between the city of Avalon, the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy and the California agency that regulates policies related to fish and game as the deer population on the island continues to grow and is approaching a health emergency. Conservancy CEO Tony Budrovich made an “impromptu” appearance at the most recent Avalon City Council meeting where Interim city manager Denise Radde struggled to explain the city’s options regarding the deer population to inquiring council member Richard Hernandez.

Budrovich explained the deer population was nearing the point of being an unhealthy situation for the island. “The deer on this island are at a level we think is not sustainable,” said Budrovich. The Conservancy CEO acknowledged that he and other officials from his organization are in discussions with the California Department of Fish and Game, who have been trying to control the deer population with birth control measures. It’s not working, he said.

He briefly explained the “complicated process” of administering birth control to deer, saying the complexity makes deer birth control effective for parcels of 10 to 20 acres. The Conservancy manages 48,000 acres shared by the deer population. “We worked with a variety of experts,” said Budrovich, who claims that the consensus is that Catalina Island can sustainably support “a population of about 500 deer.” Currently, said Budrovich, experts estimate there are more than 2,300 on the island, creating a real problem.

“The other night I encountered 22 deer from the Casino to my home at Hamilton Cove,” said Budrovich, which he said “is a record for me.” That distance is less than a mile. From a health point of view, the free ranging deer roam into town to eat garbage and other “less desirable” staples. Moreover, Budrovich said the Conservancy tests the meat of deer to determine their overall health. “The deer roaming on the island are very healthy,” said Budrovich, while the deer that roam around the city of Avalon “are very unhealthy.”

Moreover, Budrovich said so many deer are gobbling up a massive amount of beautiful wildflowers and other plants across the island. “There’s a lot more munching going on than we think is healthy for the plants and animals of this island,” he told the Council. Budrovich said Conservancy officials were excited about a “beautiful wildflower bloom” on the island, but about two months later, “we had very little to talk about. All the new sprouts had been picked off.” by the deer.

There are three overall options, including hunting said Budrovich, yet state officials are currently “drawing a blank.”

The Conservancy could build a “deer wall” to keep deer in the wild and out of the city, but that option would cost “millions and millions” of dollars, he said.

Budrovich told city officials that, currently, they do have responsibility for the deer that wander into the city but the Conservancy is mulling plans to assume the ownership of the deer population in order to develop long term solutions. “There is no quick fix,” he warned, adding that so many other more populous states and areas have a deer problem that federal or state funds would be difficult, if not impossible to obtain. The deer population is “out of control” on Catalina Island, he said. If the Conservancy opts for ownership of the deer population, Budrovich said the “deer population will become our problem” and “we will look for a reasonable long-term solution.”


  1. Just wanted to clarify a few errors in this story. Birth control for the deer has not been attempted on Catalina Island as the article suggests, but it has been investigated, disused, and determined not to be a viable singular option. The premise that the island could “sustainably support a population of 500” was not a consensus among the Conservancy’s biologists, but rather a couple individuals uneducated and inexperienced in wildlife management. The consensus among the Conservancy’s biologists for at least the last 15 years has been to push for eradication. Also, in my 14 years working as a biologist on the island (ending in Feb, 2018) the Conservancy has never “tested” the deer meat in terms of health. Hunters may have noticed more or less fat, or made general comments regarding the perceived condition of the deer during processing, which is useful information, but “testing” suggests that the meat was sampled and sent to a lab for analysis, which was definitely not the case. Substantial deer proof fencing has been assessed and cost estimates have been done. The approach that Budrovich mentions would definitely cost hundreds of thousands, but millions is an exaggeration. All of the FAR fencing, which spanned across the island multiple times cost less than one million dollars. I’m not saying its a good investment, but nearly a million dollars has now been spend to erect and maintain the “cheap” plastic deer buster exclosures since 2008, and they collectively protect less than one percent of the island.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here