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Too Many Deer Destroying Bird Nesting Habitats?

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May 21, 2012

Too Many Deer Destroying Bird Nesting Habitats?

By Chad Love

Are too many deer in the woods hurting biodiversity? That's the thought-provoking argument set out in this New York Times op/ed piece, which argues there are so many deer in the United States today that they are literally eating critical migratory bird habitat into oblivion.

From this story in the New York Times:
"...But one of the biggest contributors to the decline in migratory bird populations has gone largely unnoticed: white-tailed deer. By 1900, deforestation and unregulated hunting had reduced deer populations in the Eastern United States to tiny remnant clusters surviving in remote sanctuaries. But subsequent protective laws and aggressive habitat management allowed deer to bounce back. To this day, wildlife managers slice intact forests into sunny woodlots that maximize the number of deer and the frequency of encounters between deer and hunters. Private landowners are encouraged by wildlife agencies to crisscross their forest acreage with tasty plantings of clover and wheat in support of what is now a burgeoning population of perhaps 50 million white-tailed deer — in some places as many as 75 deer per square mile. 

According to the piece, deer are basically turning the nation's woodlands into one giant, sterile and barren browse line, which destroys the nesting habitat for many ground-nesting and near-ground nesting birds.

From the story: Take a quick drive through forested terrain and see for yourself the stark browse lines, missing orchids and denuded shrubbery. The conclusion is inescapable: There are too many deer, and they are endangering the rest of our flora and fauna, including valuable timber and invaluable songbirds.

The author does mention hunting, but argues deer hunting is becoming less effective as fewer young people take up the sport because the deer population is growing larger than the population of hunters charged with controlling it. One suggestion was to fence off large tracts of land from deer so that vegetation can recover.

Thoughts? Are there too many deer out there for the number of hunters hunting them? Do state wildlife agencies need to take a look at changing their management philosophies? Or do we need to focus on getting more hunters in the woods?

Comments (9)

Top Rated
All Comments
from CL3 wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

The story is touching upon a deeply controversial issue, to hunters and non-hunters alike. I'd need to see backup on that 50 million whitetail deer (75 psm) count for sure. The problem is that state game commissions generally manage their deer herd with a blanket-type approach statewide when it probably needs to be looked at on more of a regional scale that may even go beyond state borders. Also, calculation methods come into play, as well as a sometime apathetic reporting of harvests by hunters.

Google "PA Deer Wars" and you'll see the heated argument.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

It's no wonder younger people aren't taking up hunting. Where are they going to hunt deer that isn't 1) some other game hog's lease or 2) a subdivision of ten acre ranchettes? If hunting was more accessible and if everyone wasn't so silly about "managing their herd" for optimum antler size, then perhaps there'd be some possibility of keeping the numbers in balance. However, I think the problem with "ground nesting birds" is a lot more complex than this but it wouldn't suprise me if it didn't factor into it somehow.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from larson014 wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

OH, i can see what you mean, although its not a problem here in the UP of mich (we have plenty of access, but also wolves) many places around the US have increasing problems finding a place to hunt,and we wonder why people are hunting less...

many suburban communities in the southern part of my state have a large deer herd, feeding on flowers lol, but there is no hunting allowed

although recently communities have realized that police snipers are not a good PR response to deer problems, and have opened limited bow hunting opportunities..

that's the only places that i see that have too many deer, non hunting areas, not sure what kind of experts they have in NYC though...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jjas wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

Like it or not, deer hunting is king. It never ceases to amaze me how much people are willing to pay to play.

I don't know what is going to happen in the next few years, but "joe average" deer hunter is likely to be on the outside looking in.

Unless he's flush with cash.......

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

I love that New Yorker cover where the entire world diminishes in size past the Hudson. From where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains and west there is a diminishing deer herd. I'd like to see a map of public land hunting where states are larger the more public hunt=able land they have. The entire E coast you'd need a magnifying glass.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

That is the biggest crock of junk science that I have heard lately!

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

What the op-ed neglects to point out is that forest maturation and people's refusal to manage mixed-age class forests is a large factor in the decline of many neotropical songbirds as well as ruffed grouse and woodcock.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom warner wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

I have always been a hard-core deer hunter and all this is undoubtedly true in many places and has been going on a very long time. Many hunters here have long been aware of it. I have been watching it happen here in NY since the 1950's. Nothing left growing on the forest floor anywhere. And it's not just birds, everything is effected. Small game long gone except for squirrels. A damn wildlife desert! Too many deer are their own worst enemies along with everything else. The only folks who deny this are the people who still live in places that it has not happened,...yet. One of the big reasons for it is thousands of acres of posted land where nobody can or does hunt, and the deer numbers have long been out of control. Sorry WA Mthunter, you are mistaken on this one; it's for real!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Horseapples wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

When I studied Natural Resource Management as an undergrad we had to complete a 6 week "summer camp" program in the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest. There were fenced control plots in various location within the forest that prevented deer browse and the difference was night and day as far as species diversification of flora. The deer aren't all that selective when it comes to browsing shrubs and tree seedlings and they really do a number. The seed bed inherent in the soil is quite diverse and if given a chance, even after 50 or more years of nipping off, will yield a stark come back.

I love my deer hunting too but hunters have to open their minds a bit to the realities of ecological consequence that come with high population goals.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from jjas wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

Like it or not, deer hunting is king. It never ceases to amaze me how much people are willing to pay to play.

I don't know what is going to happen in the next few years, but "joe average" deer hunter is likely to be on the outside looking in.

Unless he's flush with cash.......

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from larson014 wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

OH, i can see what you mean, although its not a problem here in the UP of mich (we have plenty of access, but also wolves) many places around the US have increasing problems finding a place to hunt,and we wonder why people are hunting less...

many suburban communities in the southern part of my state have a large deer herd, feeding on flowers lol, but there is no hunting allowed

although recently communities have realized that police snipers are not a good PR response to deer problems, and have opened limited bow hunting opportunities..

that's the only places that i see that have too many deer, non hunting areas, not sure what kind of experts they have in NYC though...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

What the op-ed neglects to point out is that forest maturation and people's refusal to manage mixed-age class forests is a large factor in the decline of many neotropical songbirds as well as ruffed grouse and woodcock.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from CL3 wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

The story is touching upon a deeply controversial issue, to hunters and non-hunters alike. I'd need to see backup on that 50 million whitetail deer (75 psm) count for sure. The problem is that state game commissions generally manage their deer herd with a blanket-type approach statewide when it probably needs to be looked at on more of a regional scale that may even go beyond state borders. Also, calculation methods come into play, as well as a sometime apathetic reporting of harvests by hunters.

Google "PA Deer Wars" and you'll see the heated argument.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

It's no wonder younger people aren't taking up hunting. Where are they going to hunt deer that isn't 1) some other game hog's lease or 2) a subdivision of ten acre ranchettes? If hunting was more accessible and if everyone wasn't so silly about "managing their herd" for optimum antler size, then perhaps there'd be some possibility of keeping the numbers in balance. However, I think the problem with "ground nesting birds" is a lot more complex than this but it wouldn't suprise me if it didn't factor into it somehow.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

I love that New Yorker cover where the entire world diminishes in size past the Hudson. From where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains and west there is a diminishing deer herd. I'd like to see a map of public land hunting where states are larger the more public hunt=able land they have. The entire E coast you'd need a magnifying glass.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom warner wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

I have always been a hard-core deer hunter and all this is undoubtedly true in many places and has been going on a very long time. Many hunters here have long been aware of it. I have been watching it happen here in NY since the 1950's. Nothing left growing on the forest floor anywhere. And it's not just birds, everything is effected. Small game long gone except for squirrels. A damn wildlife desert! Too many deer are their own worst enemies along with everything else. The only folks who deny this are the people who still live in places that it has not happened,...yet. One of the big reasons for it is thousands of acres of posted land where nobody can or does hunt, and the deer numbers have long been out of control. Sorry WA Mthunter, you are mistaken on this one; it's for real!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Horseapples wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

When I studied Natural Resource Management as an undergrad we had to complete a 6 week "summer camp" program in the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest. There were fenced control plots in various location within the forest that prevented deer browse and the difference was night and day as far as species diversification of flora. The deer aren't all that selective when it comes to browsing shrubs and tree seedlings and they really do a number. The seed bed inherent in the soil is quite diverse and if given a chance, even after 50 or more years of nipping off, will yield a stark come back.

I love my deer hunting too but hunters have to open their minds a bit to the realities of ecological consequence that come with high population goals.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

That is the biggest crock of junk science that I have heard lately!

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

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