Well, it's November. I know this because it's cold, Hogback Ridge Preserve has seen its first dusting of snow, and I almost hit a white-tailed deer with my car on my way into work.

Well, it's November. I know this because it's cold, Hogback Ridge Preserve has seen its first dusting of snow, and I almost hit a white-tailed deer with my car on my way into work.

I saw this particular deer in time to stop, and then I crept slowly along, knowing that where there is one, there will likely be more. But this one must have been the last to cross the road; after it slipped into the woods, I saw no more.

I'm really glad I didn't hit it. Sure, I value my car, but even more, I personally love white-tailed deer. And why not? They are the quintessential forest animals, majestic and beautiful. Absent black bears, they also are the largest animal in most Midwestern forests. No fewer than 10 states have adopted it as an official state animal.

Yet not everyone loves these woodland creatures. Deer are unwelcome when they eat gardens and crops, and the damage they cause to vehicles runs into the millions of dollars.

At Preservation Parks, we have mixed feelings about deer. On one hand, we love the natural world and everything connected to it. We know that visitors to the parks enjoy the grace and beauty of deer and are thrilled when they see a doe with its fawns in the spring.

It's no accident that many of the photos taken in our parks feature these lovely animals.

But there's a flip side. Deer can eat a wide variety of food, from shoots and leaves to acorns and fungi. However, they'll first go for food that is the most nutritious and tasty, and they'll finish it off before going on to their second choice. That means they eat wildflowers and other beneficial plants that we also love to see in the parks.

Chris Roshon, Preservation Parks' natural resources technician, says that particular plants can be depleted by deer, reducing diversity and removing habitat that benefits birds and other forest dwellers. Unfortunately, he adds, deer don't like garlic mustard, bush honeysuckle and other non-native invasive plants that we are constantly battling.

Late last winter, Roshon enclosed a small area of woods at Emily Traphagen Preserve, to see what will grow when deer don't have free rein. Chances are, in that space we'll notice wildflowers and other plants that would fill the forest floor if given the chance.

Conservation experts say there are more deer now than habitats can handle. In Ohio, for example, the population has grown from about 150,000 two decades ago to about 650,000 this year. That's a lot of wildflowers eaten.

OK, so I still love deer. Some of my earliest memories are of watching for tracks along our sandy cottage driveway, and taking summer evening "deer rides" during vacations in northern Wisconsin.

But, and I'm writing this with a sigh, from now on I'll look at my beautiful deer with a little bit of suspicion. What damage are they doing in the parks, I wonder? How many of them can the parks and surrounding areas sustain? And what kind of conservation techniques will result in healthy herds and healthy habitats?

These are questions to ponder as I continue to look for deer tracks and enjoy the sight of a fawn curled up on its woodland bed. And thanks to voters who approved the Preservation Parks 10-year levy, our staff will continue to study those same questions and create parks that are enjoyable for the public and help sustain Delaware County wildlife.

For information about programs, events and park locations and facilities, please call 740-524-8600 or visit www.preservationparks.com.

Sue Hagan is public relations specialist for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.

Sue

Hagan