SAVANNAH — Tourists on Jekyll Island pull over to snap photos of them grazing by the roads, while island residents leave corn for the four-legged whitetails in their yards. As the sun goes down over the Georgia coast, golfers often see does and their fawns watching from the trees along the fairways.
“I went to dinner for Easter at a friend’s house, and I looked out the window and said, ‘You have seven deer in your backyard,’” said Bonnie Newell, a nurse and longtime resident of the island that doubles as a state park. “And he said, ‘Yes, I feed them.’”
Nobody on Jekyll Island disputes that it has an abundance of white-tailed deer. But a recent study by the state Department of Natural Resources has raised a pair of troubling questions: Does the 7-mile island near Brunswick have too many? And if so, should hunters be allowed to thin the herd?
The Jekyll Island Authority, which governs the state-owned island, in early April ordered its new conservation manager to take a closer look after a DNR survey estimated its total deer population at 712 — or 80 per square mile. The agency’s report suggested a sustainable number would be about 30 deer per square mile.
But what’s troubled residents most is the report’s recommendation that Jekyll Island consider allowing bow hunters to deal with the problem, or hire professional sharpshooters if hunting is deemed unsafe.
“We got a ton of feedback from people opposed to the possibility of having even regulated hunting on the island,” said David Egan, a resident and leader of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island. “The deer are like one of the amenities on the island. People drive around at night trying to spot them and bring their kids out to look for them.”
Egan said he doubts the accuracy of the DNR survey, though he sees plenty of deer like everybody else.
Hunting has long been banned on Jekyll Island, once a getaway owned by wealthy American industrialists before the state of Georgia bought it in 1947. As a state park, the island is beloved for its commitment to conservation.