Cornell UniversityThe Nature Conservancy

Phase 1: Problem Definition

Key events

CBDM Process Diagram

Community members experience an increase in deer-related problems, like plant damage or deer-vehicle collisions. Community leaders become aware of residents’ concerns as a result of receiving more frequent complaints or media coverage of deer-related impacts. Finally, a critical mass of residents calls for action from local officials. In response to residents' concerns, community leaders identify a process to gather information, assess the situation, and define the problem.

Key information needs

At this stage, community leaders characterize the nature and extent of deer-related problems. A good starting place is to answer these broad questions:

  • Photo by Dennis Hamilton (CC BY 2.0) What kinds of deer-related problems are occurring?
  • Where and when are these problems occurring?
  • Who is experiencing these problems?
  • How severe are the problems?

The level of effort your community will spend defining the problem depends on the resources available and the level of detail and accuracy required to fill information gaps.

In some cases, a quick assessment is all that is needed.

  • For instance, the local police department may be able to provide statistics on number of deer-car collisions in the community

Filling other information gaps will require more time and effort for data collection.

  • For example, a carefully-designed and administered mail survey may be needed to assess residents’ experiences with deer and attitudes about deer management (see resources section for survey examples)
  • Many communities find it helpful to seek help from technical experts (e.g., wildlife professionals, public land managers, social scientists) to help define their local problem

Common challenges

  • Lack of agreement on the problem. Chances are slim that all sectors of the community will be in complete agreement about whether deer are really a problem and, if so, how they are impacting quality of life. Agreement about the existence and nature of the deer problem must be sufficient to propel the issue toward resolution. Distrust of community leaders or wildlife professionals may develop quickly if a stakeholder group believes that its concerns are being dismissed or ignored by officials.
  • Desire to rush to decisions. It is tempting to jump to a discussion of deer management actions prematurely. When we see a problem, we want to fix it. But without a common understanding of that problem, and a goal statement describing the desired outcomes for your program, evaluating the success of the program in future years will be difficult at best. Consider bringing in a skilled process facilitator to help your community focus on scoping out the problem and defining goals before moving to the decision phase.

Recommended Resources

Find out how residents in your community feel about deer and deer management options.

Review resources on the economic, ecological, and health/safety effects of deer in communities.

Make communication a priority for your community's deer management program. Consult these guides to learn how.

Dig deeper into community-based deer management with these practitioners' guides. 

Find books, newspaper articles, blog posts and more about the relationships between communities and deer.

Read these first if you are new to community-based deer management.

Common Questions

There is no easy answer to this question. Time will vary based on a number of factors and needs specific to your community, including the amount of time and money you are willing to contribute, the support of local elected officials, the management method selected, and public support of the effort. CBDM is often not a one-off effort, but an ongoing commitment by a community. Some communities are able to come to a decision and take actions quickly (i.e., less than a year). In other communities it can take years to agree upon and implement deer management actions. Browsing our library of cases may be helpful to you in finding communities that may be similar to your own, in order to get a sense of the time commitment that may be needed. However, keep in mind that what worked in one community, no matter how similar it seems to your own, is not guaranteed to work in yours. 

Stakeholder engagement can be accomplished in many ways, so it does not look exactly the same in every community. Some communities get input from public meetings or comments on proposed actions; some collect information using surveys of community residents. Other communities involve stakeholders more directly, using in face-to-face deliberations like focus groups or workshops. Over time communities may gather information using a combination of several approaches. The best approach for engaging people will depend on factors such as: the level of conflict over deer, the number of stakeholders affected, how interested and aware stakeholders are in the deer management issue, how much information decision makers need from stakeholders, as well as any resource limitations your community might have. For more discussion on this, please see Decker et al. 2002.

Not every community needs a formal deer management plan, but it is important for your community to consider what might be elements of a deer management program. For example, this includes understanding the impacts that are driving your community’s deer management problem, understanding the data you need and how to collect it, knowing what your goal for management is and how much time and money you can commit and over what time horizon.