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Wildlife Management: Deer

Discussion in 'Not So Spineless Wonders' started by Bigboy, Feb 16, 2011.

  1. Bigboy

    Bigboy Arachnoprince Old Timer

    In another thread I said I would elaborate on this topic so this is what I'm doing. If this doesn't belong in this forum then please feel free to put it wherever it should be.

    To start off let me first tell you that wildlife management is a very complicated science. I am going to do my best here to give you the basic information about wildlife management required to better understand the subject. I am doing this because public perception about this is often flawed and half truths or incorrect general knowledge is often passed around to the point where people don't know what to believe. I will use deer as an example here.

    So lets start with a basics.

    An individual is an organism that makes up one part of a population

    A population is a group of interbreeding individuals of the same species living in a given area

    Birth Rate
    The number of individuals born into a population annually.

    Death Rate
    The number of individuals that die annually

    The addition of individual into a population from an neighboring population

    The loss of individuals of a population to a neighboring population

    K=Carrying Capacity
    Carrying capacity, or "K" is the number of individuals of a population that can exist indefinitely in an area.

    (Birth rate + Immigration)-(Death Rate+Emigration)= 0
    A population is said to be at equilibrium.

    Generally this point of equilibrium is the carrying capacity for the population.

    By using your imagination you can understand how many unknown and known variables might go into calculating that formula for any given species and how many years of research it takes to gain reliable figures.

    A simplistic model for population growth looks like this

    As you can see, given favorable conditions a natural population will grow exponentially until it reaches the carrying capacity of the area around it at which point it will level off. More realistically you will see this wobble effect whereby the population overshoots the carrying capacity and continues to grow and decline, grow and decline but still hovers around K.

    Deer represent a management issue for a variety of reasons. One that is simple to understand is that their main predators have been extirpated (made locally extinct) by eradication programs. These major players include wolves, bears, and mountain lions.

    Because of this loss our death rate is lowered. With less predation there are more individuals surviving. Please remember I'm trying to keep this as basic as possible, there is more at work here but I will limit it to what the average person needs to know to understand this.

    Removal of keystone predators (wolves, bears, mountain lions) renders a natural system into an artificial one. Things aren't going to work the way they once did. Imagine if you will an old grandfather clock that is missing a cog. You have to constantly adjust the time because it is no longer functioning properly without that missing part.

    Now as mentioned by RoachGirlRen, a healthy female deer usually has twins every year. When food is very plentiful, triplets are common. This means that every year the population doubles.

    This poses a serious problem on the local environment that is sustaining this booming population. More deer means more browsing. Here is an example of how heavily deer can impact the vegetation in an area.
    As you can see the area the deer can access has been severely defoliated.

    Notice the lack of vegetation below the browse line.

    This over browsing by an unsustainable deer population alters the rate of forest regeneration. Young plants cannot survive and only the plants that are inedible or large enough to have their leaves out of range are able to survive.

    This directly impacts the vegetative and forest structure of an area. Some of the things you notice first in an area that is over browsed by deer is the extirpation of bird species that nest in the understory. You will also notice increased soil erosion which in turn affects streams rivers and lakes by increasing the turbidity of the water (amount of sediment in the water column). This is a problem for species that need clear cold running water such as trout.

    A common misconception is that if you let things be they will take care of themselves. This is true in an unaltered ecosystem, however in this case, without reintroducing keystone predators this problem will not resolve itself.

    It is for this reason that deer are a managed species. Hunting as opposed to poaching is a method of removing excess individuals from a population. Because deer hunting is regulated, wildlife managers can gain exact figures each year in relation to how many animals were removed by hunters. This lets them measure the success of their management practices and lets them alter them as need be.

    Culling occurs in areas where hunting is not practical. Typically this is in suburban areas and requires contracted sharpshooters or bow hunters in order to maintain public safety.

    "But if the population overshoots its carrying capacity it will experience a population crash and resolve itself."
    This is another argument you might hear. The population will crash yes, but it may not recover. The forest needs time to recover first before it can sustain a deer population. The population may just explode again in a few years at which point it will again experience a severe crash. Chronically starved deer are also much more susceptible to disease and their parasite loads increase. For the average person the major affect this will have on you is the increased risk of lyme disease.

    While this boom bust cycle is occurring the community structure of the environment is going to continue to change. A degraded system is much more likely to experience invasion by exotic plants for example. There is also the matter of the other animals living in this area. By drastically changing the vegetative structure of the area the habitat is no longer what it once was. This results in extirpation of local fauna as I mentioned above.

    After an 8 hour day and writing this up after getting home I am out of steam. Post any questions or rebuttals below, I will address them when I have the energy and time.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2011
  2. Spidershane1

    Spidershane1 Arachnoknight

    'K' would only equal zero in the equation if the death rate and emigration rate both had a negative value, or if one of the parenthesized equations was subtracted from the other.
    (birth rate + immigration) + (-death rate + -emigration)= 0
    (birth rate + immigration) - (death rate + emigration)= 0
    (death rate + emigration) - (birth rate + immigration)= 0

    I totally know it was just a typo & it doesn't change the facts of your post, I'm just a math buff and it was irking me :p
    In related news, I like your post and the points it presented. All seems true, but my emotional side just wont ever let me completely accept culling living creatures. Even if it helps the big picture, I just feel so bad for the individuals who get killed by no fault of their own. So logically I agree with you, but I could never bring myself to put it into practice.
  3. Bigboy

    Bigboy Arachnoprince Old Timer

    Thanks for catching that, I edited it for you.
  4. RoachGirlRen

    RoachGirlRen Arachnoangel

    Great post BigBoy. I have some thoughts but I'm going to present them by replying to some comments from the thread that resulted in this one.

    Thanks for the education but I was already well aware of both ;) I simply think that the current way that we hunt is NOT an adequate population management strategy, and I think this is evinced by the fact that deer and other large hoofstock tend to stay overpopulated even when they are annually hunted to 'decrease the surplus population.' I'll elaborate by replying to this:

    It may be natural for a human to hunt, but the way we currently structure hunting is anything but. As you said, "animals hunt to eat all the time" - yes, exactly!

    Most other natural predators have year-round lower level take rather than a few months of intense hunting. Hunting season generally occurs right before winter, lowering the population enough that many of the deer will make it through the winter fat and happy to churn out a bunch of fawns the next year - precisely what we DON'T need in an overpopualted species. What's more, when available natural predators tend to take easier prey: young, old, weak, sick, which ultimately benefits herd health. Humans do the precise opposite: we select the largest, healthiest adult animals we can get.

    Interestingly, despite the claims of wanting to help control damaging surplus hoofstock populations, hunters have consistently been some of the strongest opponents of keystone predator reintroductions and some of the strongest proponents of programs that decrease the populations of natural predators. One of the reasons commonly cited? The natural predators are so good at their job that they actually put a meaningful, sustained dent in the population, creating competition with human hunters.

    Yes, the regulation allows close observation, but I think anyone who has ever lived in a state with severe deer overpopulation (I have; NY is pretty darned bad) can tell you up front that the annual hunting season is not cutting it. All it really does is cause a brief decline so that whiny tree-huggers don't have to see the poor widdle starving deer - a decline that is counteracted by high birth rates, maintaining a consistently too-high population. But hey, that too high population results in plenty of hunting licenses and the associated $$, so no one seems to care.

    I guess what I'm getting at with this is... our current system of hunting as a true overpopulation management tool is poorly structed and counterproductive precisely because we are more interested in special interest groups and making money than we are in protecting our biodiversity. A low-level regulated year-round hunt would be, IMHO, better for population control. Though the most favorable would be reintroduction of keystone predators in habitats that would support it.

    I understand that none of this is "as simple as just that," but at the end of the day, can we HONESTLY say with hoofstock as overpopulated as it is in this country that our current system of "management" is working?
  5. tiger cowboy

    tiger cowboy Arachnopeon

    Sorry about that last post. For every person that knows that stuff there are many many more that don't.

    I agree with you that hunters can be a part of the problem! If I hear one more say that wolves are eating all the elk or hawks are eating all the pheasant I will go bananas (it will likely happen tomorrow). The system isn't perfect, far from it. There has more recently been a move to start managing the deer herds more for quality and health than higher numbers. A large part of this is increasing the harvest of does and hopefully decreasing the overall population.

    On the other hand, good luck finding an area that would tolerate a widespread re-introduction of bears (for instance) into their backyards. Many of those top-tier predators range hundreds of square miles and any large reintroduction is going to have almost insurmountable problems associated with it. Again public opinion.
  6. Spidershane1

    Spidershane1 Arachnoknight

    Public opinion is lame in SpiderShane1's opinion. I live where in an area where we see black bears all the time. My solution? If theres a bear outside, GO INSIDE. Its worked for me for 25 years and in my whole town, I've never heard of any human hurt by a bear. They dig through our trash all the time, but the minor inconvenience of picking up trash is SO worth the awesome pics we get of big awesome bears in front yard. I've been an avid hiker since I was a little kid, and have seen plenty of bears when I was way out in the woods & they typically just run away when they see you. If not, they would just kinda follow at a distance for a couple minutes and watch us, then dissapear into the wilderess. We would even get them get them wondering onto our middle school campus from time to time, but as soon as someone saw it, we would all just hole up in the classroom until it left & got a neat show from the window. I just dont think that because a bear has the POSSIBILTITY of hurting a person, that we should kill a bunch of em. Your cat could scratch you and it could get infected then you die, so lets kill everyones cat. If someone does not want to live around bears, then go live in the desert and not the FREAKING MOUNTAINS. As you can tell, I love bears, lol. I live with em every day. I just dont see how killing people is so bad, but yet killing something just as amazing is OK.

    Anyway, I'm getting off topic. This was not an evidence based scientific method post but more of me ranting about my personal thoughts, which I'm sure are debateable. Thats my 2 cents, thanks.
  7. Bigboy

    Bigboy Arachnoprince Old Timer

    This is absolutely true. Take Pennsylvania for example. State deer biologists don't last long at their posts in that state because of the general knowledge that "There are no deer in Pennsylvania."

    In fact Pennsylvania has one of the worst histories of deer management in the country and its herd is enormous.

    One of the state's former deer biologists, Gary Alt, used to receive death threats, and had to wear a bullet proof vest and be accompanied by police officers to public meetings. Why? Because he suggested lowering the population of the deer herd in the state by removing does.

    People were convinced that the deer herd in the state was faltering because of incorrect general knowledge. The result was the perpetuation of a broken management system.

    Please do not misconstrue my meaning, I say this as an avid hunter and fisherman. I'm just expanding on the subject of misinformation and how it can affect wildlife management.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2011
  8. RoachGirlRen

    RoachGirlRen Arachnoangel

    Spidershane, unfortunately the small % of people who actually appreciate wildlife - especially predators - seems to shrink every year with our increasing detachment from the outdoors. I'm shocked at how many people I've talked to who say they've never gone on a hike in their lives. It seems most people think nature is just some annoying thing that messes up your rose garden or poses a threat to your stupid little purse dog. Few people seem willing to suffer the mildest inconvenience in their lifestyle - be it putting a fence around their garden, containing their trash properly, or supervising their 5lb dog outside at night - in exchange for benefitting native wildlife. Very sad, IMO.

    I talked to someone once who thought we should eliminate all birds of prey because one killed her duck. She said that they were "unimportant" to ecosystems because other predators could fill their niche. Nevermind that if a wild animal kills your livestock, it's on YOU since the job of an owner is to contain and protect their pets - how could anyone possibly be this ignorant! But I hear sentiments like this more often than I'd like. I own poultry, I know that just about everything out there likes to eat them - so I contain them! And if I lose one to a weasel or bird or racoon or whatever, it's all on me.
  9. Kaimetsu

    Kaimetsu Arachnosquire

    This is somewhat relevant to this thread.


    The Montana governor has authorized the killing of endangered grey wolves because they kill livestock. It seems to me that they need to find other ways to protect their livestock.

    I think that reintroducing the deers natural predator is probably the best way to control deer populations, but situations like this make it very difficult to sell that idea to the general public.
  10. Bigboy

    Bigboy Arachnoprince Old Timer

    Keeping the voters happy... I honestly don't understand ecological ignorance at that level. I wish I could so I could see how anyone could spout such idiotic nonsense but I really can't. All I can do is get very frustrated and a little more alienated.
  11. zonbonzovi

    zonbonzovi Creeping beneath you Staff Member

    It's refreshing to hear from folks that WANT bears roaming about their backyard. It's one of the myriad reasons I chose to live where I live. Unfortunately, I live near an area used by the urban wealthy as retirement destination. We've had multiple bear issues in the last few years, usually someone's underinformed grandma truckin' through the woods w/ "insert mini-pooch here" at 5am. Fortunately the last bear to maul grandma avoided all the traps set for it and will go on to make baby granny maulers.

    At the same time that the local populace is concerned with "deadly bears", state law allows hunters to come in to semi-suburban settings to hunt on private land, regardless of nearby house density. We had a hunter emerge from the undergrowth on our property recently, fully armed & wielding a bloody knife to retrieve a dying buck that he'd shot on the next property over(someone didn't like the deer eating his apples and gave permission for the hunt:rolleyes:) Had I not seen the obvious cammo, we would have considered him an immediate threat and, well...acted accordingly:evil:. When I discussed the situation with other folks, they didn't see any problem with it?!? Personally, I'll take the rather predictable bear over the unannounced & armed suburban hunter any day.

    I won't even attempt to address the numerous & bizarre management policies put forth by the state that biologists working for the state often turn their noses up at.

    If there's any particular herd that needs culling...;)
  12. dtknow

    dtknow Arachnoking Old Timer

    I guess the question is is it unethical to "make money" by keeping hunters happy? I'd say it is only if it compromises the conservation values of the organization. California's management of wild(feral) boar as a game animal IMO is madness. They should be obliterated as pests.
  13. RoachGirlRen

    RoachGirlRen Arachnoangel

    dtknow, you read my mind on this one. The feral pig thing in California is a PRIME example; there shouldn't be a managed season for them at all. If anything there should be a bounty for the darn things given how harmful they are to local ecosystems. But people like to hunt them, will pay to hunt them, so they are allowed to persist. I don't see any inherent issue with using hunting licenses as a source of revenue for our state and national forests - but there IS an issue when special interests interfere with sound management And IMO, keeping hoofstock overpopulated, refusing to reintroduce predators where feasible, allowing invasive game species to persist, or killing predators for the sake of hunters' interest IS interfering with sound management. Not trying to make this an anti-hunter thread, of course. I just see some big glaring problems with wildlife management in this country as a whole, and it irks the heck out of me.
  14. presurcukr

    presurcukr Arachnolord

    I AGREE not only in California but Florida/Georgia/Louisiana/Mississippi/Hawaii and Texas
  15. Bigboy

    Bigboy Arachnoprince Old Timer

    He was holding a bloody knife while looking for a buck he shot? That doesn't sound right.
  16. greenmonkey51

    greenmonkey51 Arachnopeon

    If you want to continue funding for all wildlife besides the major game species then start paying up. Hunters pay for a majority of wildlife conservation in this country. If a few more deer will please them then give it to them.
  17. bugmankeith

    bugmankeith Arachnoking Old Timer

    What sucks is that if it wasnt for urban areas or farms, there would be no need for population control, there would be enough room for carnivores and herbivores to flourish.
  18. RoachGirlRen

    RoachGirlRen Arachnoangel

    1. Way to trivialize a very real and significant problem. Maybe you missed BigBoy's post on the effects of deer overpopulation?

    2. I gladly pay fees to use my state and national forests, and I've happily purchased a Wildlife Heritage license even though I am not required to do so to enjoy hiking, kayaking, and bird watching in my state (it is only $10 but is matched three to one per dollar by the federal government, which is awesome). Though, I hike often enough that I probably pony up a heck of a lot more than the $24 annual all game fee in this state in the course of a year. I'm sure if there was more awareness, many avid outdoors enthusiasts would gladly buy an annual license or donate to use their parks for non-hunting uses. However, while there are many opportunities to buy hunting licenses locally, I would have never even known a Wildlife Heritage license existed if I wasn't searching the DCNR's website for information on how to become licensed as a wildlife rehabilitator.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2011
  19. greenmonkey51

    greenmonkey51 Arachnopeon

    There are much bigger problems in wildlife conservation than deer overpopulation. If it was a huge problem hunters could very easily take care of it. In Nebraska 50k+ deer are shot in 9 days. If need be the harvest could be upped easily. Removal of apex predators are not the cause of deer overpopulations. Agriculture and suburbs are the problems. Every section of corn has a 640 acre food plot on it that provides food and cover. Add a creek and deer don't have to leave.

    Do you know where the match funds come from for your heritage license. You might want to look up the Pittman Robertson Act. A 10% tax on guns, ammo, and hunting products provides the funds for the match. Most avid hunters and fisherman also pony up more than the 24$ for annual game fee. On average most spend at least a 100$ per year for permits, and that is just for in state permits. Hunters have every right to hunt parks if not more considering they pay for a lot of them.

    Humans are just part of the ecosystem and can manage the wildlife however they want.
  20. RoachGirlRen

    RoachGirlRen Arachnoangel

    No one's been arguing that hunters shouldn't be allowed to hunt in parks so I'm not sure where you're getting that from :?

    The only thing people have suggested - very honestly might I add - is that in many states, game overpopulation has been allowed to persist when it should really be better controlled. And some of that mismanagement is unfortunately related to sustaining higher population numbers for hunting purposes. For example:
    I personally would be interested in seeing the effect of a regulated lower-level, year-round hunt rather than a brief and intense hunting season. It seems that it would better mimic natural predation cycles. The few anthropological studies on the sustainability traditional hunting methods (which generally include a lower year-round take) seem promising, but unfortunately indigenous hunting practices are being replaced by a shift from sustinence hunting, to hunting for the purpose of selling to the exotic game and bushmeat market, which is anything but sustainable. But that's a whole other discussion and represents issues even more complex than game management in the US.

    As for agriculture and suburbanization being a big part of the problem... no kidding. From the other thread:
    Though, saying "Removal of apex predators are not the cause of deer overpopulations. Agriculture and suburbs are the problems." is oversimplifying things just as much as saying "removal of apex predators IS the cause of deer overpopulation." In truth, it is a combination of factors: loss of apex predators, proliferation of artifical habitats that support high populations (logging, agriculture, suburbs, highways, etc.), high reproduction rates due to the abundance of food (related to everything from forage availability to deliberate feeding to prevention of winter starve-off), mismanagement, and more.

    ETA: I should also mention, folks who use state and national forests for other recreational purposes don't exactly have control over what the government chooses to tax, so I think it's a bit silly to argue the noble conservationist angle just because guns and ammo are taxed. Items like guns and ammo are being taxed because the government saw a good way to get revenue, not because hunters volunteered for it - just like smokers don't volunteer for taxes that support public health programs. That being said, if the government wanted to put a tax on binoculars, field guides, and hiking boots to create aid to support wildlife habitat, that would be fine by me.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2011