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| 6/17/2015 10:00:00 AM

Deer Management - A Dead End Issue? 

Management Approaches

Many of us are familiar with the term “agriculture.” Agriculture, according to Wikipedia, “is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi, and other life forms for food, fiber, biofuel, medicinal and other products used to sustain and enhance human life.”

Since 1978, another way of managing land has come into fruition too. According to founder Bill Mollison, "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”

In the forest setting, we have forestry. “Forestry is the science, art, and craft of creating, managing, using, conserving, and repairing forests and associated resources, in a sustainable manner, to meet desired goals, needs, and values for human benefit.”

Both agriculture and forestry share goals that meet mainly human desires. Permaculture, on the other hand, seeks to meet human-based goals while considering the entire ecosystem. There is plenty of overlap between these approaches, and their definitions can be highly subjective, but a general understanding can be reached. 


Perhaps a new subset of these management systems could be Deerculture (You can insert your own term if you’d like). I just made this term up – as far as I know – since I know no other way to stress the importance of deer management. You might be thinking, “Isn’t deerculture too specific?” But is it? Deer are a keystone species throughout the eastern temperate forests of North America. I would argue that agriculture, forestry, and permaculture have all been compromised by the mismanagement of the white-tailed deer. Conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.” Deer are voracious eaters. One of them can eat 4 to 6 pounds of buds per day or between 1,460 and 2,190 pounds of vegetation annually. That adds up to a lot less vegetables; hay; apples; nut trees; timber trees; maple sugaring trees; mushrooms; ginseng; nectaries for bees; forest regeneration for biodiversity; regeneration for water quality and sediment control; cover for rabbits and songbirds, foxes, bears, grouse; landscape plantings; etc. No other species affects the forest understory – and the future forest – more than the white-tailed deer; except human beings that is.

Human-Deer Relationship

Our relationship with deer is not new; it spans thousands of years. Humans have been the primary predator of deer for a long time. Refuse pit-sites uncovered by archaeologists throughout the eastern US have found deer bones at historically known Native American settlements quite abundantly. We can debate how balanced and abundant the deer herd was during the Native American’s dominance in North America. However, it is well documented that many natives burned the forest in order to enhance young growth which fostered both fruit and nut trees, but also cover for the white-tailed deer. In order to illustrate this historical relationship, one author – who I cannot remember – remarked about the color of a deer’s coat. It blends into brushy areas and the forest edge. The deer’s color may be no accident, but an adaptation to thousands of years of human habitat manipulation. In other words, by satiating the forests chief ruminant (deer), the forest was able to grow beyond the reach of deer, and provide benefits for other wildlife and humans alike; a keystone solution to a keystone problem.

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