Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Deer Damage

More and more often lately, as I run outside in my stocking feet to chase deer away from the Rhododendrons, Holly, fruit trees or even the bird feeders, I think I should try hunting shooting again. I really wouldn't have to hunt. It's more like shooting fish in a barrel around here. But it's been a long time since I shot a gun and I'm not sure I can actually hit anything any more. The sound alone would deter the deer for a few days. But eventually I'd actually have to kill one to convince them I'm serious.

David says he's going to take up hunting in 2008 and quotes the New York Times on the impact of deer overpopulation on landscaping and such. Frustrated as I am by the damage to my shrubs, I'm more concerned about the impact of deer on the forest ecology. Years ago I thought I'd like to have a hemlock in my yard. So, I set out to find one in the woods to transplant. When I couldn't find one taller than a foot but less than five feet, I began to realize the impact the deer were having on forest regeneration.

From Cornell Department of Natural Resources:

Research is showing that white tailed deer populations of more than 14 deer per square mile can have a harmful impact on forest health. Many areas of New York have 16 to 40 deer per square mile. This impact is commonly seen in the lack of diverse seedlings and young trees in many forests. If your forest has an open understory, chances are it is actually in a path of decline, rather than vigorous health.

I don't know how wide their range is, but when I see eight at once in my yard, I'm guessing there are more than 16 per square mile.

Deer damage cannot be repaired easily. All forest owners should prevent and reduce deer damage to maple, ash, hickory, walnut, oak, and other seedlings. Deer have a lower preference for some species, like beech and black cherry. This means that over time, the composition of tree species in forests may shift to just a few different kinds of trees, rather than the natural diversity that existed before deer became overpopulated in New York in the last 30 years.

This confirms my observations. Beech and black cherry saplings abound. Even White Ash is doing fine, except for the "ash dieback" and the threat of the ash borer. But maple, hickory, walnut, oak and hemlock just don't have replacement seedling coming along. I should probably stop trying to protect my ornamental shrubs and devote the time to protecting some saplings in the woods.

The impact of the loss of the understory affects habitat of small mammals and some songbirds. Not to mention that the deer can easily decimate wildflowers such as Trillium and Mayflowers. I don't recall when I developed this non-anthropocentric viewpoint. But the health of the ecosystem is more important to me than the fact that I have to fence my fruit trees for protection and drive 40 mph or less on the way home to avoid hitting deer.

The problem is too many people, not enough wolves. I don't think the neighbors will let me have wolves. In fact, I don't have enough space to induce wolves to stay even if the neighbors cooperate. So, we have to be the wolves.


Leendaluu said...

We could blow dart them full of progesterone implants--that would solve some of the reproductive problem and your shooting fetish. They'd never be organic deer, though......

Kay Dennison said...

We have the deer problem just south of us. Carroll County: 67,000 people -- 80,000 deer! The answer? I don't know. The deer population has gotten so huge that they're allowing hunters more than one deer a season lately. I guess it beats letting them starve to death.

Happy Holidays!!!!