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Wednesday, 24 January 2007 00:00

Deer dilemma

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This week’s column is a follow-up to last week’s piece about urban archery seasons and deer/human conflicts within municipalities. Most regular readers of The Naturalist’s Corner know that I am not an advocate of hunting or any blood sport — been there, done that and have developed a different attitude regarding the creatures with which we share the planet.

 

I am also a realist, and I know that hunting is an activity that will be around long after I am gone. As an avid hunter for nearly 30 years, I know that a majority of hunters have an overarching concern for the ecological health of wild landscapes as a whole.

As noted in last week’s column, the root cause of deer/human conflicts is a high density of deer in and adjacent to these municipalities. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) knows this and even states as much on its Web site regarding deer/human conflicts - http://www.ncwildlife.org/fs_index_06_coexist.htm. With regards to removing animals from municipalities, the Web site states, “If a residential neighborhood is located near an area with a high deer population, other deer will just move into the neighborhood.”

The above statement related to trapping deer, but the same principle holds true for killing deer. The site goes on to note, “The most effective way to reduce deer depredation problems in residential areas is through population management in the surrounding area.”

Most wildlife agencies came into being around the beginning of the 20th century when white-tailed deer populations were at an all-time low across the county due to a lack of regulations, unchecked market hunting and habitat destruction. Their goals were to increase deer populations and provide plenty of game for hunters.

In 1900 the deer population in North Carolina was estimated to be 10,000 animals. Today it is around 1.1 million. This was accomplished through establishing bag limits, making it illegal to kill does, creating food plots and managing other habitat to maximize deer browse and scheduling hunting seasons to insure that pregnant does would have plenty of forage.

And now North Carolina’s burgeoning deer herds are marginalizing some of their habitat, negatively impacting other populations such as nesting songbirds, involved in more and more auto collisions, and munching more and more of the tasty treats that uneducated home owners offer them while being sustained at terribly unnatural sex and age ratios.

According to the September 2002 issue of Wildlife in North Carolina, some herds have a ratio of 20 bucks per 100 does – the normal ratio in unhunted populations is 1:1. On top of that the average age of bucks killed in North Carolina is 1.9 years with a significant number even younger. Approximately 60 percent of deer killed in the state each season are bucks (antlered and button) and only 40 percent are does. The number of deer killed and the total population in the state have been relatively steady since 1993 at around 200,000 and 1 million respectively. So this basically relates to a turnover in bucks every year and a half or so.

While researching deer/human conflicts for last week’s article, I ran across an organization known as QDMA (Quality Deer Management Association.) QDMA began as a state organization in South Carolina in 1988 and has since grown to national status. Today QDMA’s headquarters is Bogart, Ga. There are 10 regions covering all the Eastern U.S. to Texas and Kansas.

According to Paul D. Curtis, associate professor and wildlife damage control specialist at Cornell University, some of the primary goals of QDMA are to shift the age and sex structure of current deer populations and provide more forage per deer so that individuals are healthier.

Two of the primary tenants of QDMA are killing more does and letting younger bucks walk. The ideal is to achieve that 1:1 buck to doe ratio, so it goes without saying that the kill ratio needs to be at least 1:1 – greater if you are starting with a population that is already skewed towards does.

According to Curtis, “Sportsmen benefit by having the opportunity to take the trophy buck of a lifetime and experience a quality hunt. Landowners benefit by selecting more ethical and experienced hunters, lowering deer densities on their property, and ultimately reducing deer impacts to crops and forests.”

And bringing those deer densities down around municipalities will give town fathers more options. The town of Kiawah Island, S.C., was the first in the nation to study the efficacy of a fertility drug in reducing deer numbers. The study began in 1999 and was discontinued in 2002 after the deer population had been reduced to acceptable levels. Four years later (2006) the population was still holding steady.

As I said at the start of this column, I’m not a proponent of hunting. But I am a proponent of healthy wildlife in harmony with healthy ecosystems and QDMA looks like a great start in that direction.

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