Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm rooting for the deer hunters, again

(White-tailed deer congregated in a feeding yard.  The number of deer here suggests a high density of deer in the area.)

I am a wildlife biologist, so I like all forms of wild animals and plants.  I don’t think there is an organism that I don’t appreciate biologically, including mosquitoes and deer ticks that cause Lyme disease.  I also love white-tailed deer; after all, I conducted my Ph.D. research on this species in the 1970s. But enough is enough.

Whitetails are probably about 10 times more abundant in the Northeast now than they were before whites arrived here.  Long story, but humans have inadvertently created fantastic deer habitat by breaking up the original forest, which is not good deer habitat, into a mosaic of cropland, fields, and forests of several age classes, which is great deer habitat.

The result of the high deer density is that they exert tremendous browsing pressure on native plants in the forests. The species composition of future forests is being determined by the selective removal of certain kinds of trees by deer that is occurring today.

In addition, damage to vegetable gardens and ornamental shrubbery by deer results in a significant cost to homeowners; New York State residents in two areas of the state paid $200-$500 per year to replace lost trees and shrubs due to deer. Deer browsing is a general frustration to hobby horticulturists throughout much of the country.

I could hunt deer to help contribute to herd reduction, which I used to do. But after chasing deer around with a dart gun every day for two years during my research days, chasing them around with a rifle is simply too much like work. Besides, my wife doesn’t even like venison, so what is the point?

We live on 12 acres of mostly wooded land in upstate New York. When the deer season opens, deer tend to congregate on my little “refuge” to escape hunters. So I chase them off and into the surrounding “killing fields” in hopes of seeing a reduction in the herd overall. But, of course, this is all like spitting in the ocean.

White-tailed deer have been a part of my life for 40 years. It is truly a species I love to hate and hate to love. I guess I am just hoping we find a balance. You know, not too hot, not too cold; not too hard, not too soft; not too many, not too few.

Article first published as I'm Rooting for the Deer Hunters, Again on Technorati.