STATEN ISLAND — A deer outbreak created in part by people feeding the animals potato chips has prompted a campaign to teach Staten Islanders that "Deer are not Bambi."
More than 1,500 white-tailed deer are estimated to be roaming the island, a massive population boom since 2008 when only 24 sightings were reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
As well as causing traffic accidents, they're wreaking havoc to residents' back yards and gardens.
And they've prompted a community board to suggest the "Deer are not Bambi" campaign to dissuade people from feeding them.
"The deer population has been growing like crazy on Staten Island," said Frank Morano, chair of CB3 which discussed the problem at a recent meeting.
"People look at them as how cute they are and start feeding them, and the worst we can do is feed them. Let them live on their own."
Christopher Cushieri, director for Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Charleston, which has a large deer population, said that neighbors mean well when they feed them.
"I think people feel sorry for them, especially in the winter," he said.
But he said that feeding deer generally does more harm than good.
"You're now making deer dependent on people," Cushieri said. "By feeding them, you're taking the natural fear away from them."
Cushieri said that people feed the deer food that would not be in their natural diets, like potato chips.
"They're not getting the nutrients they need," he said.
In New York, it's illegal to feed or put out any food that attracts deer.
Giving them food may make them more likely to be out near streets because it causes them to lose the fear they generally have for people, Cushieri said.
"Deer are associating people with food," he said. "You'd expect deer to have fear of people."
The community board plans to write letters to the Department of Environmental Conservation and the city's Parks Department about launching the "Deer are not Bambi" public awareness campaign.
The community board also wants to look at methods of eventually controlling the deer population in the borough.
"They may be cute and adorable, but we should not domesticate these animals," said board member Sherif Farag. "The population should be controlled."
While the board did not put forth a suggested method for population control, they looked at the deer management program started this year by the DEC in New York State which allows regulated hunting of deer in the state.
A DEC spokesman said no similar plans were being considered for Staten Island.
"Department staff is monitoring the occurrence of deer throughout the Island," said DEC representative Rodney Rivera.
"The number is very small. At the present time, there are no requests to control the deer population."