Seeing the Forest for the Deer

| 10/16/2015 3:35:00 PM

Tags: deer, forest management, ecology, wildlife, forestry, Ryan Trapani, New York,

Fawn under cover

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is charged with managing the deer population of New York State; a difficult task to say the least. In order to understand the magnitude of such a task, let’s try to compare how beef cattle and deer are managed.

Beef Farming

Most farmers know their business since it’s their livelihood and have a personal stake in their animals. Farmers must figure out basic numbers, like where and how many cows are out there; no problem there since cows can be easily counted inside a fence. More challenging is estimating the logistics of food. An inventory of pasturage and grain supplies must be accounted for in advance and made available to the herd. In other words, the number of cows must be properly aligned with the amount of food and vice versa.

Beef prices can serve as valuable information for a manager on whether or not production – in this case herd population – should be increased or decreased. The increase in price on beef may tell the producer that demand for beef is rising and increasing production may be worthwhile, depending on his costs. If he finds increasing production is worthwhile, next is the resource. Does he have enough pasture to increase herd size with? What about the price of grain for supplemental feeding? At some point, he may face a condition of diminishing returns; where the number of cows exceeds the carrying capacity of his pasture and grain supplies.

It can take a lifetime to know one’s land, its capabilities and limitations, let alone the cows themselves. Every farmer probably knows his hay fields and pastures like the back of his hand: where the wet spots are, the dry spots, the sweet spots for growing just about anything.

Deer and Cows: Both in Demand

Cows aren’t deer, and fields aren’t forests. I would argue that deer and forests are more complex and difficult to manage than the former. Deer do not exist within a fence, are more difficult to count, and their habits vary across a larger space. However, both cows and deer require food in order to increase in number or remain vigorous. In addition, they both share a strong demand by the American public.

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