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?