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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Monday, August 22, 2016

"if you have mature oaks and abundant deer, realize that whitetails can prevent the oaks from regenerating:............"Whether you cut them for lumber or watch them die of old age, they might be the last of their species".............."(The) scientific evidence that deer often make it impossible to regenerate oaks, even in areas with wolves and harsh, deer-killing winters (is irrefutable)"..............Bayfield County, Wisconsin's deer herd(like so much of Eastern North America) has been overpopulated for much of the past 30 years, so traditional oak-growing systems simply produce deer food, not trees"........."(Proof positive of this fact is the fact that) after harvesting the oaks in one 35-acre test parcel in 2001 and burning it in 2005, the patch grew thick with oak saplings by 2008".............. "And deer loved it"............ "By 2013, after eight growing seasons, 90 percent of the 3,798 young, heavily browsed oaks stood only 1 foot or less tall, and 10 percent were between 1 and 2 feet tall"................. "None stood 2.1 feet or taller".............. "Normally, red oak in that region grow 1 to 2 feet annually, and stand taller than men by their sixth growing season".................And yet the hunters, whether they be in Wisconsin, Maine, Virginia or Alabama continue to overrule the professional forester, getting them to put more deer in the forest......Case in point---"(Wisconsin's) post-hunt deer population in 2015 was nearly 1.2 million deer, which is nearly twice the sound goal for winter"

Patrick Durkin: North Woods oaks don't stand chance against deer herd

August 20, 2016
For all the accusations we hear about too many wolves and careless deer management in northern Wisconsin, many areas still have enough whitetails to jeopardize the North Woods’ once-robust oak stands.

In fact, some foresters think it’s time to simply cave in to hunters’ demands for more deer and quit trying to manage forests for this lucrative hardwood, which woodland owners have long cherished.
They say if you have mature oaks and abundant deer, realize that whitetails can prevent the oaks from regenerating.Whether you cut them for lumber or watch them die of old age, they might be the last of their species.

That was the message heard in late July from two “oak huggers” who addressed the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association’s annual conference in Eagle River.
Dave Clausen of Amery, a former Natural Resources Board chairman; and Mike Amman, the forester for Bayfield County’s Forestry and Parks Department, concede they’re minority voices in Wisconsin’s long-running deer debates. Both serve on their respective County Deer Advisory Councils, and both were outvoted this spring by fellow CDAC members who want more deer in Polk and Bayfield counties.
Still, Clausen and Amman stand their ground, citing scientific evidence that deer often make it impossible to regenerate oaks, even in areas with wolves and harsh, deer-killing winters.

Amman is responsible for Bayfield County’s 169,400 acres of county forest, which is open to public hunting. Clausen owns and manages about 450 acres of woodlands in Polk County, and 10 people besides him hunt it. Even with antlerless tags and crop-damage tags they can’t kill enough deer to grow oaks.
Amman said Bayfield County’s county-owned forests hold 14,867 acres of oak, of which 80 percent is 86 years or older. To regenerate oak, forestry textbooks recommend large-scale logging followed by prescribed burns. That process jump-starts young oaks, which soon cover the forest floor.
Unfortunately, the region’s deer herd has been overpopulated for much of the past 30 years, so traditional oak-growing systems simply produce deer food, not trees. Amman said after harvesting the oaks in one 35-acre test parcel in 2001 and burning it in 2005, the patch grew thick with oak saplings by 2008.

And deer loved it. By 2013, after eight growing seasons, 90 percent of the 3,798 young, heavily browsed oaks stood only 1 foot or less tall, and 10 percent were between 1 and 2 feet tall. None stood 2.1 feet or taller. Normally, red oak in that region grow 1 to 2 feet annually, and stand taller than men by their sixth growing season.
Instead, those sites grow thick stands of sage and bracken ferns. The ferns thickly cover these sites in summer, but leave no food or cover after dying in fall.
What can be done to spare oaks? Well, 8-foot fencing costs about $442 per acre. And if you want to surround each seedling or sapling in a 5-foot tube until it grows beyond the deer’s reach, it costs about $300 per 100 tubes, not including time or labor.

Clausen knows those challenges. He installed wire enclosures around 40 of his young oaks this year, and plans to protect another 100 by spring. Still, that’s like fighting a wildfire with a $50 squirt gun. He showed a photo of a lone oak he planted in 1990-91 with 50,000 other oak seedlings. That tree, which he calls “Lucky,” stands about 25 feet tall and is the planting’s only survivor.
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Browsing deer stunted most of those young oaks, which eventually were shaded out by pines planted at the same time.
“The only thing that works is to cut a stunted oak at ground level and fence it off,” Clausen said. “Stunted oaks have tremendous root systems and produce remarkable growth if you protect their tops, but that’s impractical and too expensive when you’re trying to grow 50,000 trees.”

Even where Wolves are present, Oak regeneration
is being retarded by bloated deer herds

Amman and Clausen don’t expect Wisconsin’s current deer-management program to help, although some folks try. The state’s Deer Species Advisory Committee, for example, includes mostly Department of Natural Resources biologists.
When they recommended antlerless quotas this spring in 28 North Woods counties, they agreed only Iron and Forest counties couldn’t support hunting for does and fawns. The committee said seven counties — Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, Florence, Oneida, Sawyer and Vilas — should have antlerless quotas ranging from 200 to 630, but the hunter-run CDAC committees in those counties rejected their advice and voted for zero.
The CDACs in six other counties also voted for lower quotas than biologists recommended: Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marinette, Oconto and Rusk.
When the final statewide CDAC recommendations went to the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board for approval in May, no one mentioned the science committee’s recommendations.

Even harsh Winters where there are Wolves present,
do not always dampen deer herds enought to allow
Oak seedlings to flourish

Even so, Clausen keeps arguing his case, but doubts anything will change until farming and forestry interests pressure legislators to restore effective deer-management strategies.
“I sit on Polk County’s CDAC, and I’m under no illusion that we’re managing deer,” Clausen said. “We could issue unlimited bonus tags and still not kill sufficient deer to reach our goal. With the current season structure and hunter attitudes, we’ve lost the ability to control the herd.”
In Bayfield County, the CDAC committee supported Amman’s idea to enroll 10,000 acres of county forest in the state’s new Deer Management Assistance Program to get some antlerless hunting. The county’s forestry committee rejected the plan.
Amman is frustrated but not surprised. “They only hear from hunters who say there’s no deer,” Amman said. “They overrule our paid staff of foresters, even though we’re presenting all this evidence of a problem undercutting the oak’s sustainability. We have an entire industry built on the flow of timber, but before long we’ll have little oak to sell.”
Clausen isn’t surprised either.
“The statewide post-hunt deer population in 2015 was nearly 1.2 million deer, which is nearly twice the sound goal for winter,” he said. “That was also above the post-hunt 2014 herd by 6 percent in the northern forest, 17 percent in the central forest, 6 percent in the central farmlands, and 11 percent in the southern farmland. ... When this (DNR) administration said they were not going to consider numbers in setting deer policy, they were serious.”

Too Many Whitetails?
Photo by Gerry Lemmo.
Bill Schmidt, of Elysian Hills Tree Farm in southeastern Vermont, says his current deer problem is not as bad as it was twenty years ago. Back then, the deer had a habit of congregating in his 20-acre Christmas tree plantation and nibbling certain balsam fir trees down to broomsticks.
While his Christmas trees have been spared of late, his woodlot still bears testament to the uneasy tension between forest health and deer populations. Things aren’t as bad in southern Vermont as they are in, say, suburban Connecticut, where the forests have been fundamentally altered by deer, the forest floor stripped of wildflowers, and saplings overtaken by species that are unpalatable to deer. But a problem does exist.
Schmidt has seen hardwood seedlings – maple, ash, and oak – with the distinctive frayed edges that show a deer has nipped them to the ground with its lower incisors, then ripped the top off with a pull. He’s seen more beech and birch, an increase in hay-scented fern and non-native species such as buckthorn and barberry, none of which deer like to eat. There are forested areas on his 130-acre farm where new trees just cannot get started.
Schmidt manages his land not just for trees but also for the wildlife that lives there. He likes that his property is home to deer but would prefer that there were fewer of them.
The perception gap
Around northern New England and upstate New York, many landowners, foresters, and wildlife enthusiasts have similarly conflicting feelings about deer. The million-dollar question is: how many deer are too many? Is it when the population density reaches a certain number, like 16 or 20 deer per square mile? Is it when hunters complain that the deer are too skinny and that there are no trophy bucks? Is it when the deer population exceeds the habitat’s carrying capacity? Or when environmental impacts, like loss of wildflowers, become noticeable?
It’s none of these things, says Thomas Rawinski, a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service in Durham, New Hampshire, and an expert on deer overabundance. While all are factors, the criterion that tops all others is the cultural carrying capacity: the number of deer that people are happy having around.
“Every person has a different life experience with deer,” says Rawinski. “They may be orchardists or farmers, or they may have had a vehicle collision or Lyme disease.” All of these influences must be included in the process of deciding how many deer there should be. “Wildlife is owned by everybody, so everybody needs to make the decision.”
An example of these differing reactions can be seen on Bill Schmidt’s tree farm. In southeastern Vermont, deer densities have fallen from a high of 40 deer per square mile in the ’60s and ’70s to half that today, according to Shawn Haskell, the deer project leader for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. Haskell believes this deer density – roughly 20 deer per square mile – is the right number for a healthy deer population that is in balance with its environment.
Still, a recent public comment period revealed that the region’s foresters would like to see the deer population reduced to a quarter of what it is today. At the same time, hunters in the area are complaining that deer numbers are down; they’re advocating for more deer.
Deer in the headlights
Foresters often have a front-row view of the damage “too many” deer can cause to the landscape. Wildflowers, such as trillium and showy lady’s slippers, can be especially hard hit. “Each adult white-tailed deer eats about 2,000 pounds a year,” says Charlie Fiscella, New York State chapter president of the Quality Deer Management Association “That’s one ton. Go out with clippers and see how long it takes you to clip one ton. It’s hard to do that, especially when the habitat is marginal.”
The Nature Conservancy is just finishing up a study finding that deer are one of the top threats to a healthy forest in New York State, and that oak and maple seedlings are a deer’s favored food source. Since woodlot owners and foresters are also fond of oaks and maples, the deer’s impact is deeply felt. As these commercially valuable hardwood species start disappearing, forest composition can be skewed to favor birch, beech, and hophornbeam.
When deer pressure is overwhelming, you get no seedling regeneration at all. This allows invasive species to fill the void and dominate the ecosystem. As the invasives grow, the deer continue to eat native plants and avoid the invasives, thus giving the invasives a perpetual advantage.
Biologists do caution, however, that deer sometimes get too much blame for bad forest regeneration. In a forest with even-aged trees and an overstory that lets in no light, it may be the tree canopy that’s suppressing the seedling growth. One study found only subtle differences in a deer-free, full-canopy forest plot.
Jeff Ward, chief scientist of the forestry and horticulture section of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, based in Windsor, Connecticut, has first-hand experience with deer-caused imbalances. “In one study area where there was a ‘high’ deer herd, there was a 100-acre patch that was almost pure Japanese barberry,” says Ward.
Cases when deer do eat invasive plants can be just as much a problem as when they don’t since eating seeds can help the invasives spread. “Several years ago, we gathered over 5,000 deer poops in a greenhouse to see what would grow from them,” said Scott Williams, a deer biologist at the Experiment Station. Thirty-two species of plant that germinated were not native to the state of Connecticut, including Carolina horsenettle, little hogweed, and lambsquarters. “Deer are able to transport hundreds of exotic plant seeds each day to new locations,” said Williams. “That’s one aspect of superabundant deer that people don’t consider.”
As forest composition changes, animals suffer, especially songbirds. The National Audubon Society reports that eastern wood pewees, indigo buntings, least flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, and cerulean warblers are negatively affected when deer populations exceed 20 deer per square mile. At 40 deer per square mile, an area starts to lose eastern phoebes and robins. Ground nesters, including ovenbirds, grouse, woodcock, whippoorwills, and wild turkeys, are vastly reduced.
Clearly, deer influence the environment, but they can also negatively affect our own health and safety. Deer play a role in the spread of Lyme disease, as well as the emerging diseases babesiosis (which has malaria-like symptoms) and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (which has symptoms similar to the flu). They also cause more-direct harm in accidents with vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 150 people are killed in these accidents nationwide each year, while thousands more are injured. Property damage from such collisions totals $1 billion.
Too Many Whitetails? Image
These experimental Pennsylvania patch cuts were done inside an enclosed area with a controlled deer population. Both cuts are 11 years old. Above, the controlled deer population was 10 deer per square mile. Below, 64 per square mile. Note poor regeneration.Photos by Susan Stout/USFS.
What we hold deer
With so many problems caused by deer overabundance, it’s tempting to see the problem as an act of nature, like a lightning strike or a blizzard. But it is humans who are at the root of our deer problems, not nature. The good news is that what we have caused, we have the power to correct.
When mountain lions and wolves were eliminated from the Northeast, human beings became the white-tailed deer’s major predator. Today, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears do prey on white-tailed deer, especially fawns, but most biologists will tell you that in a healthy ecosystem this predation is not a major population check. Similarly, a particularly harsh winter may kill many deer in northern New England, but elsewhere winter weather has a relatively minor effect on the deer population as a whole.
These days, in most of our readership area, hunting by humans determines how many deer there are. For the last several decades, it has been hunters who played the primary role in controlling the deer population. In some places, though, that is no longer the case.
“Today there are fewer hunters, and the hunters are older,” says Rawinski, of the Forest Service. The amount of time each hunter spends in the woods, a statistic called “hunter effort,” has also gone down, perhaps as a result of faster-paced lifestyles, the increased age of the average hunter, or part of the larger cultural trend away from hunting.
That antihunting cultural trend also means more landowners don’t allow it, forcing hunters onto fewer pieces of land, says Fiscella. Deer find smaller hunted parcels easy to avoid, leaving the frustrated hunters behind. Because of this, it is easy for a gardener to suffer from too many deer, while right next door a hunter is complaining about too few.
But even more than land use in rural areas, suburbanization is leading to an increase in deer numbers. “Humans have created a perfect habitat for deer,” Rawinski says of the suburbs.
Gardens and lawns provide wonderful deer food. “[Gardens are] high in nitrogen, and they love it,” says Jeff Ward. “They certainly love mine.” Both humans and deer love edge habitat, the border between forested and open lands, he says. When creating more edge habitat for ourselves, by building a house surrounded with lawn in what was once a forest, we also create new habitat for deer.
For the deer, this habitat is paradise, because hunting is often not permitted there. For example, in Massachusetts you can’t discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a building. Add to that a regulation saying you can’t shoot a gun within 150 feet of a highway, and suddenly you have very few places in the eastern part of the state where it is legal to fire a gun.
In some states, such as Connecticut, this means that hunters are no longer controlling the deer population. According to Rawinski, “What is potentially controlling the deer in the suburbs is soccer moms in SUVs.”
Ward says, “Here in Connecticut, cars are the number one killer of deer.” As many as 13,000 deer a year may be killed by hunters, while cars kill up to 18,000 deer in the state each year.
Too Many Whitetails? Image
In Connecticut, with perfect deer habitat and reduced hunting, more deer are killed by cars than by hunters.Photo by Doug Stamm.
Doe, a deer
When an ecosystem becomes unbalanced, it can take decades to bring it back into alignment. In the meantime, landowners looking to mitigate deer damage on their land have limited options. For protecting small plots of land, commercial repellents can be effective under certain conditions. So can fencing, either conventional or electric. Deer become accustomed to scare tactics like motion-activated sprinklers or fireworks long before the neighbors do. Folk remedies like spreading human hair around have not passed scientific scrutiny, but tallow-based soaps have proven useful when deer populations are not already high.
When it comes to reducing the deer population, though, there seems to be no way around killing deer. This is often an unpopular solution, and much effort has been put into finding alternatives. Birth control (immunocontraception) has been highly touted by animal rights groups, but has proven ineffective in practice. The Connecticut State legislature once implemented a buck vasectomy program. “That was a failure,” Ward reports.
Some people call for relocating suburban deer to more rural areas, but that’s little more than a fantasy. There are no places looking to take in excess deer from the suburbs, and transporting deer often injures or kills them.
As deer populations grow, deer-herd managers are changing their idea of what deer management should accomplish. Instead of maintaining the deer population, today techniques are being used to reduce the herd size. Since bucks are polygamous and largely expendable from a reproduction standpoint, to reduce the overall population in an area you must kill does.
This strategy doesn’t sit well with all hunters, many of whom have grown up with the idea that a hunter’s responsibility is to protect, and even increase, deer numbers no matter what. Some hunters, and even state legislatures, shy away from the idea of killing does, even when everyone agrees that deer are harming the environment.
Perceptions are slowly changing, though. Today, every state in the Northeast has some form of doe season, and efforts are being made by both hunters and state governments to educate people about the important role hunting plays in deer population control. An alternative to traditional hunting can be seen in southern New England, where professional snipers are paid to cull deer, often at night, often over bait, in suburban developments where hunting is not allowed.
Too Many Whitetails? Image
Efforts are being made by both hunters and state governments to educate people about the important role hunting plays in deer population control. Photo courtesy Vermont Fish and Wildlife
Conditions vary from one state to another, from one county to another, even from one ridge to another. In and around Bill Schmidt’s woods in southeastern Vermont, there is some indication that the deer are currently at both the cultural carrying capacity and the biological carrying capacity. Still, a walk in his woods will show evidence of high deer populations in the recent past. The invasive plants that are a big problem in the area were probably originally helped along by deer overpopulation.
Invasives were exactly what kept Schmidt from making a timber cut at Elysian Hills for many years. Invasive buckthorn in a five-acre stand of red pine led him to believe that if he cut the stand buckthorn would take over and few valuable trees would grow. After years of work getting the buckthorn under control, he made the cut last year.
“I’m curious to see what comes in,” he says. Schmidt won’t know the results for several years yet, but maple seedlings sprouting up on his land would not only be the result of successful forest management, but also a hopeful sign that just the right number of deer are calling his farm home.
Madeline Bodin is a freelance writer from Andover, Vermont.
Too Many Whitetails? Image
Photo by Drake Fleege

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