Oh Deer

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JHarkness
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Oh Deer

Post by JHarkness » Fri Dec 28, 2018 5:39 pm

ENTS,

I wanted to share two photos and a bit of information on white-tailed deer damage. It has become increasingly clear to me that overabundance of white-tailed deer is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, threat to our northeastern forests. On my sixty acres in eastern New York there once were thriving populations of round-leaved dogwood, hobblebush, large white trillium, black cohosh, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, yellow trout lily, these species were doing fine 19 years ago, but every last one of them has disappeared since. It is not just limited to plants, animals are highly effected as well, ruffed grouse, ovenbird and fisher have entirely disappeared just in the last ten years and even the bobcat is on the brink of disappearing here, I haven't noticed much of an effect on amphibians, but I imagine it must be massive as well. I see fewer mushrooms in the forest now than I did just five years ago, particularly mycorrhizal fungi, and insect diversity has declined. Most people would welcome the near total disappearance of black flies, but I feel sickened whenever I think of it as it owes to the fact that the forest has gone from a wet, nutrient rich, and biologically diverse forest into a dry, barren landscape. It is not just limited to those species that have disappeared, maple-leaf viburnums, deerberry, striped maple, American chestnut and others are barely holding on, much longer and chestnut and striped maple could disappear entirely as well. Places I would have considered to be similar to temperate rainforests two decades ago now strike the impression of dry upland oak-hickory forests with grassy understories, even the so-called "invasive" hay-scented fern is barely able to survive in this new landscape. What is the cause of this destruction? The white-tailed deer. Their population has increased dramatically in the past two decades here and it has consequences on every living thing, even the deer themselves.

Recently I followed deer tracks in the snow over my entire property and determined that no less than 21 individuals were on the property that day. This evening I chased off 8, the normal density for sixty acres here should be 0-1. There isn't just one cause for the increase in deer numbers here, there are many. From the DEC seemingly deliberately trying to increase deer numbers for the ever-increasingly lazy hunters (the "I gotta see more deer" type) in this area of the state, to a sharp decline in people who are legitimately trying to hunt deer (not the play with guns and drink beer out in the woods crowd which seems to have increased in recent years), to ever increasing forest fragmentation and development of invasive species shrub thickets, and even to an increasing interest in hunting the eastern coyote, the bobcat, and even the black bear, in the area. The situation is out of control and only getting worse now that invasive plants are attacking even mature relatively unfragmented forests and that Asian jumping worms are destroying what is left of the understory, not to mention that forest pests (elongate hemlock scale, woolly adelgid, beech scale, emerald ash borer) are only getting more and more common in the area. Unless NY State actually gets involved in the situation here, I fear the natural landscape here will be forever lost and replaced by invasive species shrub thickets which won't even support the very deer which started the decline. The situation is not a good one, as these two photos from my property illustrate. The first was taken during a small selective thinning operation in 1999, the second one was taken in November of this year.
1999
1999
2018
2018
I want to make it clear that all of the decline in this time period was caused by deer, no invasive plants, forest pests or earthworms have yet to make an appearance at the site in the two photographs.

As it happens, someone recently asked for permission to hunt on my land (which is certainly a good first impression, consider that most of the "hunters" here genuinely believe that all land belongs to them and will trespass on anyone's property, heck I even had someone cut down some of my trees a few years ago because they thought they "owned" them). Basically, this guy seems respectable, I'm going to set up an interview and if he seems good I'll be working on acquiring deer nuisance permits from the DEC, for once the future looks good. But what about elsewhere? Certainly other places are having the same issue and many I'm sure are much worse off. It also begs the question, what happens in a few decades when there will likely be even less of an interest in hunting but a greater fear of natural predators induced by the media? It's happening now, people are scared of coywolves as it is and couldn't possibly accept cougars or non-hybrid wolves being present, even if the chance of them attacking a human is incredibly low and could be avoided all together with people taking proper safety measures. In the long-run, this may all be pointless, all that I can hope for is that the older angry white males who are causing so many of the problems here will eventually die off and be replaced by a generation with a greater care for their environment, though I fear that may not even happen...


Joshua Harkness
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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Lucas
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by Lucas » Sun Dec 30, 2018 1:16 pm

20 on 60 acres would be 200 per sq mile. A huge number that I have seen reported only once for Nantucket. 40 is claimed now.

Deer are a big problem alright but it seems possible that other factors could be involved over 20 years.

http://maps.adventuremapping.com/whitet ... _map_1.asp


https://www.americanscientist.org/artic ... e-comeback

Hope coming over the hill?
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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JHarkness
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by JHarkness » Sun Dec 30, 2018 2:42 pm

Lucas,

The actual density isn't that high, fortunately. These deer roam an area a lot larger than my land, I suspect up to two thousand acres. There actually aren't any "resident" deer that spend the majority of their time on my land. I suspect that the actual density is between 10 and 20 per square mile on average, if even that, I simply don't know how big a range these deer have, so just because there is an occasional density of 200 per square mile on my property doesn't mean that that is the density over a square mile. The unfortunate reality of it is that my land has what is likely the largest mature forest block in the immediate area, hunting hasn't been allowed for deer due to the behavior of the local hunting crowd so the deer view it as safe, during hunting season is when many individuals and the occasional large herd show up, as a consequence of that, hunting season is when most of the damage is done, I observed it this summer, shrubs and saplings would begin to grow back, then hunting season started and all the new growth was destroyed in a matter of weeks. It didn't help the situation when my neighbor began shooting coywolves a couple years ago because they were "dangerous" and then began feeding deer... the result has been greatly accelerated deer population growth, growth of a population that was already too high.


Interesting that you mention cougars, they are in the area despite the DEC's attempts to claim that there is no presence of them in NY. I've actually seen one about five miles from here, near the CT border there is large tract of undeveloped mature forest, it is only intersected by one road, driving along that road one day a very large brown cat with a long tail ran across the road in front of me, it was most definitely a cougar. A few years ago one was hit by a car in SW CT, it was determined that the animal had walked from South Dakota to CT. So they are around despite what state environmental organizations say.


The good news about the deer density is that I suspect it is quite localized, at a site just three miles away there is essentially no deer damage at all, so it appears to have been caused by reduced hunting/reduced natural predator numbers in a very small area. So perhaps with hunting of the deer on my land again the entire high density area can be managed.

Joshua
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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ElijahW
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by ElijahW » Mon Dec 31, 2018 7:30 pm

Joshua,

I think you’re on the right track toward solving your deer problem. Sixty acres is a good amount of area for one or two hunters, provided they show up consistently and act in a responsible manner. Deer will move when they feel pressured, and the mere presence of hunters should get them to walking.

I’m not making any suggestions on how to handle your neighbor, but NY law prohibits the feeding of deer and other wildlife.

Another suggestion might be to take regular walks through your woods during hunting season. Make sure the deer hear and see you. If these “hunters” keep trespassing on your property, you may have to get the law involved.

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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JHarkness
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by JHarkness » Tue Jan 01, 2019 11:19 am

Elijah,

I'm hoping this guy is going to be the answer, as I haven't recently encountered any other hunter nearby who acts in a responsible manner, if for some reason it doesn't work out, I'll get in touch with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies as they used to have a horrible deer problem (much worse than mine) but were able reduce the deer herd enough that they have an incredibly low impact, when I met the person currently in charge of deer management he told me "what worked was controlling the hunters, the deer were controlled as a result". It is such a shame we have so many irresponsible hunters in the area as they've really ruined the situation, a lot of the respectable hunters seem to have given up hunting in the area because of the other "hunters" and it is now much harder for those that continue to hunt here to get permission from landowners to hunt on their land because hunters in general have gotten such a bad reputation here. To put it in perspective, I read in the news recently about someone who had already used his buck tags, so he then proceeded to kill an additional (or maybe two, I can't remember) buck, cut off it's antlers, and used a doe tags on it. None of the hunters around here seem remotely interested in taking does, so you can see why they don't help the situation much.


I wasn't aware of there being a law against feeding deer, I could swear I read something recently about there being no law in place over that. That really comes as a surprise to me as my local hardware/feed store had pallets full of "deer corn" and "deer hay" this fall. I suppose I'll need to check into that, unfortunately the evidence of my neighbor feeding the deer (not even on their own property, mind you) is gone now, but that probably will happen again next year.

It's funny you suggest essentially harassing deer, as that is exactly what I did this fall, I would walk the mile and a half loop on my land daily, sometimes twice a day, chasing off and yelling at the deer, it did work to some extent as a lot of beech saplings and root suckers as well as witch-hazel sprouts didn't get eaten down much this fall, where as last fall they were completely destroyed. Obviously it isn't enough, but it is better than nothing. I have actually gotten the law involved many times with trespassers, one person was arrested and several had their hunting licenses suspended, but unfortunately it didn't stop them from coming back eventually. They used to ride quads all over my property, I had someone park in my driveway and then hunt on my property without so much as even knocking on my door to ask if he could do so, I even had one guy cutting down trees for "deer habitat" who claimed that he owned the site which was in the middle of my property. The situation is better now than it was a few years ago, but there still are occasional problems now.

Joshua
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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ElijahW
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by ElijahW » Tue Jan 01, 2019 12:38 pm

Joshua,

I should clarify what I mean by “feeding deer.” Planting and cultivating crops for the purpose of attracting animals, or “food plots,” is allowed. Leaving piles of food, such as grain, vegetables, apples, or hay bales outside for the purpose of attracting animals is not. I’m assuming what was being sold was for use as seed. Here’s what the DEC has to say on the subject: https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7197.html.

I know lots of people like to see deer in their yards and will induce them to come with food. This may seem harmless to the people doing the feeding, but can hurt the deer in the long run, due to an unnatural reliance on humans for food and increased chances for the spread of disease.

To the problem at hand: if you find someone who’s been successful in reducing their deer density, see if you can copy their plan, as long as it aligns with your personal values. Good luck,

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

Llc
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by Llc » Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:43 am

60 acres is a lot, but fencing would keep out the trespassers and deer. At least around an experimental plot, to save sample populations of the species that you describe disappearing?
The latter photo is very familiar; I didn’t realize it was unusual. 20 on 60 acres is about average where I live. Growing anything, even a furry tomato plant, without a fence is impossible. I’ve never seen a situation like the above photo except with invasive species like honeysuckle.

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JHarkness
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Re: Oh Deer

Post by JHarkness » Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:37 pm

Chan,

Unfortunately, fencing works against everything I am trying to accomplish here, which is essentially maintain a healthy forest, fencing would fragment it further, interrupt wildlife (there are many black bears, coyotes, etc.) here that would be severely impacted by fencing, it also adds the risk of plastic pollution and would be destructive to many of the sensitive environments it would need to be built in. Then comes the practicality of it, maintaining over two miles of fencing from falling limbs, trees, etc., which happen on practically a daily basis. Fencing is simply not a solution, in fact it will likely worsen the issue and without constant, and costly, maintenance fail to keep the deer out. Oh, and most likely some local yahoo who feels entitled to any land around would just cut the fence anyway. Hunting is the only thing that will bring the situation under control, though that isn't as simple as it sounds considering the reputation of the local "hunter" crowd and the fact that the DEC has yet to be of much help since they are convinced there aren't enough deer here yet... and according to their "wildlife biologist" who visited to assist with planning deer management, it would be far better to have the forest completely clearcut as it would allow for "regeneration" and a "healthier" ecosystem. Invasive honeysuckles? Got them here too, they're loving the open understory conditions created by the deer, as is just about everything non-native.

Joshua
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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