Environmental Forum Archives
The Potomac Highlands Watershed School's Environmental Forum provides a setting for students and teachers to explore regionally important environmental issues in depth. Students work both as a class and with other students across the internet to understand problems and to seek solutions that are broadly acceptable to their communities.
"Oh Deer!" Environmental Forum 2011
Monday, October 10 to Friday, November 18, 2011.
1. Welcome to the "Oh Deer!" Environmental Forum 2011
9/5/2009. New York Times: Tick-Borne Illnesses Have Nantucket Considering Some Deer-Based Solutions
The "Oh Deer! Forum will use the following format:
There are not a lot of ground rules for this Forum. All serious entries will be posted as submitted (including typos and grammatical errors). "Act of God" solutions will not be considered. In other words, you may not assume that the problem will solve itself. We are aware that Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in deer in some areas - if you choose to use this or other diseases as a deliberate part of your "solution" that is up to you. During the final week, you must work as a group to find a solution to the problem. Just keep in mind that what you write will be available for the entire world to read. No pressure.
How abundant are white-tailed deer? Over abundant deer are a problem for forests, for agriculture, in the country, and even in towns. In general, populations greater than 15 -20 per square mile can cause problems. You will learn more about deer density issues further below. But first, take a look at this interactive map from the Quality Deer Management Association of the "deer density per square mile" for the entire United States. See is you can find how many deer there are in the area where you live. In general, where are deer densities less than 15 per square mile? Greater than 15? Greater than 45? The numbers can get quite high. For example, using WV Division of Natural Resources buck kill numbers, the white-tail population in the West Virginia's Lost River watershed was estimated at about 67 per square mile in 1998.
On a related point, the Quality Deer Management Association also has an interesting article titled: Deer Density vs. Sightability. It answers the question: "As deer density increases do we always see more deer, and do we always see fewer deer as it decreases?"
During the 2005 Oh Deer! eForum, a number of WV students mentioned that the deer population seemed to be getting smaller. The graph showing data on the buck harvest in select WV counties since 1995 would support their observation.
What could cause that change? WVDNR wildlife biologists had predicted an increase for 2004, but larger than expected harvest declines may have been caused by the record antlerless deer harvest in 2002. The decline might be also have been due to several years of poor acorn production, or bad weather in the first three days of the season may have kept people out of the woods (Moorefield Examiner, Dec 18, 2004). Severe winters may have reduced the number of fawns carried to term, or caused increased over-winter mortality in the deer herd. Whatever the cause - is this a trend? A cyclic variation? Or something else? WVDNR uses the buck harvest to estimate the total deer population; to learn more about how WV DNR does it, click here. Try using the web to find the number of bucks harvested and the total area in square miles of in your county, and then use WVDNR's formula to estimate the total deer population per square mile in your county. We did it in the above graph, and you can to.
This graph was prepared by the The Truffula Farmers and Barbaloot Hunters of Mountain Vista Governors School during the 2008 Oh Deer! eForum.
Over abundant deer cause problems for forests, farmers, homeowners, watersheds, and the deer themselves.
Forest problems. The Bureau of Forestry in Pennsylvania has this to say: "White-tailed deer populations in excess of 20 per square mile are common in many areas of state forest land and such populations are largely responsible for the lack of woody and herbaceous regeneration. Deer exclusion fence studies have documented that deer populations of 16 per square mile or less allow regeneration of woody and herbaceous species to occur, thus preserving the species diversity present in the forest when normal bureau harvesting activities occur." Here's the link to the full report. The Caring for Deer and Forests website a very clear, visual presentation about deer impacts on forest health (highly recommended).
Consulting Forester and Native Guide David Warner describes the changes he has personally observed in West Virginia forests, due to excessive deer population, over the past 25 years. You can learn much more about the ecosystem impacts of overabundant deer and the challenges of controlling them here and here. (Note: the first link is to Audubon Pennsylvania's major report entitled Managing White-tailed Deer in Forest Habitat From an Ecosystem Perspective; we suggest you start with the Executive Summary to this report.)
Research at West Virginia University found that deer foraging threatens the survival of ginseng, a medicinal plant that lives on our forest floor and generates more than $2 million in income annually for harvesters. More details from the researcher is here. When the lead researcher involved in that project was interviewed on National Public Radio about their results, he made the startling statement that we need to restore major predators, such as wolves and mountain lions, to protect our forests from overgrazing by deer. Why would he be willing to go on national radio and say something so controversial? You can find some clues here. This story was covered by all the major media, including Scientific American.
Farm Problems. Agronomist and Native Guide William Grafton (West Virginia University) describes how deer impact the viability of farming in West Virginia. Use this link for an excellent piece on the impacts of deer on agriculture in New Jersey. The economic impacts of overabundant deer are staggering. This is a very good overview.
Deer as a Watershed Problem. Cacapon Institute is a member of the West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy Implementation Team (WVPTS). Our challenge is to promote land management practices in West Virginia that protect our local rivers and also the Chesapeake Bay. One of the most important things that landowners can do is grow "buffers" along the edges of streams on their land. Buffers consist of un-mowed grasses or forests that filter pollutants before they can reach the stream. Some of our WVPTS projects are Riparian Forest Demonstration Projects, where we planted trees along the South Branch of the Potomac and Cacapon rivers and are monitoring the results. Click here for a project overview, and then click here for first year results and here for second year results. As you see, deer are an overwhelming problem. Cacapon Institute is conducting an experiment, successful so far, to see if we can increase the success of the plantings. Thousands of miles of these riparian buffers are being planted throughout the Bay watershed - what matters is not that the trees are planted, but that they actually grow into riverside forests. Cacapon Institute Director and Native Guide Neil Gillies describes how forest changes caused by deer may impact water quantity.
Before the colonization of the Eastern United States by Europeans, natural deer predators like wolves and mountain lions were abundant. They interacted with the deer population to maintain a healthy ecosystem. To get a sense for what that means, here is a repeat of the link about wolf restoration in Yellowstone National Park.
In the absence of predators, control of the deer population is left to human actions both intentional (like hunting) and accidental (car-deer interactions), as well as disease. This clip about top Pennsylvania wildlife biologist Gary Alt will provide a sense of the challenges. Mr. Alt is now a former PA DNR employee - he quit because they wouldn't aggressively face the deer problem and is now working independently with other groups trying to address overpopulation. Here's an article from Audubon Magazine, "Public Menace", about the challenges of controlling deer in Pennsylvania that tells the Alt story in detail. Highly recommended!
WV Division of Natural Resources offers suggestions for controlling agricultural damage from deer here, discusses deer management to protect habitat here, and fundamentals of deer management and estimating deer populations here. Pennsylvania is leading the way in using fencing to help regenerate forests; read about that here and then see if you can find more information about deer fencing on the web. Here is an interesting Washington Post article on hunting in the suburbs as an effective way to control deer.
Deer problems in suburbia were mentioned above. The challenges of deer control in developed areas are complicated by the presence of large numbers of people. This link, repeated from above, provides an overview of possible solutions for suburbia, such as contraception, fences, sharpshooters, and repellants. An interesting and entertaining read from the peer reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin on the issue of deer contraception and understanding stakeholders is his article "Urban deer contraception: the seven stages of grief" (784KB, PDF) (The Wildlife Society Bulletin, 1997, 25(2))
They are beautiful animals that play an essential role in our ecosystem, and provide pleasure of many kinds to many people. The problem is ours. The New York Times published an editorial on March 30, 2005 that said it very well: