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A Key deer on Big Pine Key in Florida. Photo by Garry Tucker, USFWS.

New survey shows Hurricane Irma had little impact on Key deer population

A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey has found that Hurricane Irma killed some of Florida’s endangered Key deer, but that the overall population remains healthy.

Prior to Irma, the Service estimated approximately 1,100 deer roamed their core habitats on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. After Irma, Service staff estimated the population at 949 Key deer in the same areas.

“We are happy to report Key deer numbers are well within the range we observed before Irma,” said National Key Deer Refuge manager Daniel Clark.

“These Key deer and the natural habitat they depend on are pretty resilient,” he continued. “First they made it through the New World screwworm infestation last year, and now through the direct hit of a category four hurricane.”

Key deer are now in the mating season (rut) and healthy, active deer are readily seen in the core area. So far the refuge has positively confirmed 21 storm-related Key deer deaths. Since the storm, the refuge has documented 12 deer deaths from vehicle collisions, up slightly from this point in previous years. The refuge encourages visitors, contractors and residents to drive slowly and safely from Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf to protect Key deer and other wildlife.

Additional efforts to help Key deer in the wake of Hurricane Irma include:

  • Continued monitoring of fresh water areas suitable for wildlife use. Due to the storm surge from Hurricane Irma, salinity levels in some fresh water wetlands were, on average, higher than acceptable levels for most wildlife species. However, rainfall since Irma’s passing has resulted in most of these areas showing significant decrease in salinity so that supplemental wildlife watering is no longer required on No Name Key, Cudjoe Key, Upper Sugarloaf Key, North and South Big Pine Key. The only area still requiring this fresh water supplement is Long Beach on Big Pine Key.
  • Working with the Florida Department of Transportation on addressing the downed fence on US1. The Service’s South Florida Ecological Services Field Office in Vero Beach has the lead on this effort.
  • Partnering with Florida International University to seek funding for post-storm habitat assessments in the pine rocklands. Even before Irma, only 2% remained of the globally endangered habitat found only in south Florida and the Bahamas. Pine rocklands provide important habitat for a diverse plant and animal community, including 18 plants found nowhere else and eight federally listed animal species. Some of these species include the Key deer, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly, Big Pine partridge pea, wedge spurge, and sand flax. Of all refuge plant communities, saltwater storm surge events from hurricanes and sea-level rise now pose the greatest risks for the pine rocklands.
  • Continuing to work with partners such as Texas A&M University, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Key deer is a state listed species), and concerned citizens for Key deer and other wildlife management post Hurricane Irma.

Look for refuge updates on our website and Facebook page.

Download photos of Key deer road surveys and other post Hurricane Irma impacts and efforts from our Flickr album.

The National Wildlife Refuge System protects wildlife and wildlife habitat on more than 150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Maine to Alaska. Refuges also improve human health, provide outdoor recreation, and support local economies.


Dan Clark, Manager, Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex
(305) 872-2239 x209

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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