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A Deer Population Under Control Is A Healthy Thing

July 24, 2007

By Tom Remington
Tom Remington
There is a reason why state fish and game management sets goals for attaining and/or maintaining an ideal whitetail deer population. Some people, hunters and non-hunters alike, want to see deer everywhere. This is not practical nor is it healthy for deer and humans.

Most states, depending upon several factors, try to manage a deer population of somewhere around 15-20 +/- deer per square mile. When deer populations radically exceed that amount, starvation and disease moves in as a means of knocking the numbers down. Sounds “natural” but is it a good thing?

We have discovered that animals are very adaptive with changing environments, some more than others, and with this ability to adapt, things happen that humans sometimes don’t like.

Many of us love to wildlife watch, including in our own back yards, until sometimes the realities of nature rear its sometimes ugly head. Wild animals need to eat. They look for places where they deem it safe from predators. Deer’s natural predators in Maine are coyote, bear, bobcat, lynx and humans. Deer have learned that our backyards can be pretty safe havens for them because of the elimination of hunting and thus they move in and eat up our shrubs and eat the food many of us often put out for them.

Will little or no predation, a safe environment and ample food, whether natural of provided by those who feed them, deer populations will flourish. When this happens, disease isn’t too far behind as we witness the fear and reality of Lyme disease.

On July 11, 2007 the Portland Press Herald ran an editorial claiming that killing lots of deer was no means of controlling deer ticks. Here’s the basis of their argument.

But nonsporting hunts are unpopular with animal advocates. Also, game managers point out that deer are perfectly capable of rebuilding lost populations in only a few years, because the real limit on herd size is its food supply, not predation. In fact, despite regular hunting pressure, the state’s whitetail population has remained constant for years.

To state that non-sporting hunts are unpopular with animal advocates is a joke. Any hunt, whether consider sporting or not, is unpopular with these groups. If animal advocates had their way, wild animals would dominate the planet at the expense of human life.

I can only assume that the editorial staff at PPH must support and condone the animal rights activists because they are saying that because hunting is unpopular, we should allow humans to get sick by contracting Lyme disease.

It amazes me that non-hunters and animal rights people seem to want it both ways when it comes to creating arguments against hunting. These groups are quick to blame hunters, fishermen and trappers when any wild animal species is believed to be in short supply. You will always see in the history they present that hunting is what eliminated many species, some of which are still on the endangered species list.

They are just as quick to point out that hunting as a management tool to keep a species’ population in check doesn’t work. As is the case in this feeble attempt at landing on the side of deer ticks, as animal lovers do, they use a half-truth argument that game managers state that wild animals are capable of quickly reproducing to offset losses. They try to support that statement by saying that even with years of deer hunting in Maine, the deer population hasn’t changed in Maine.

These are true statements but if you’d like to know the entire truth, read on. Wild animals are quite capable of reproduction. I guess it is one of those “unexplained” naturally occurring things that when life is good for deer with a good home, low heating bills (mild winters) and plenty to eat, the biological capabilities to produce extra offspring takes over. Often most fertile females will yield twins and an occasional three pack. By the way, it works the opposite way too. Remove these comforts of home and reproduction drops.

As higher level thinking humans (yes, I know that is debatable), we very often make similar considerations when deciding whether to have more children.

The other part of the argument is one of either total ignorance on the part of the writer(s) or is an attempt to deliberately twist the truth in order to somehow further taint the sport of hunting as unnecessary because it is ineffective. Credit the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for managing whitetail deer in order to maintain current populations.

Are there areas where improvement is needed? Absolutely! The northern reaches of Maine struggle to keep a deer per square mile population above 5-10 animals. Severe winters, loss of habit and an ample supply of predators makes the job difficult.

On the flip side of that, areas in central and southern Maine have too many deer. The MDIFW has created an extended bow hunting season in areas where they can get hunters in to work on population reduction. There are too many areas now that are just closed to any form of hunting, not because of MDIFW but because of landowners and municipalities. Now some of these communities are complaining because they have too many disease carrying deer and they want to know what the state is doing about it.

Officials at MDIFW could reduce the deer quite effectively in areas where hunters can go. All they have to do is increase the number of permits or tags or even eliminate bag limits altogether. Scientific formulas used by wildlife biologists can determine how many deer and what sex, need to be harvested in order to achieve a reduction in total numbers. It isn’t exact science but they do a pretty good job, considering the variables.

The threat of deer ticks can be found any place deer live but that threat multiplies when deer populations are too high combined with close proximity with humans. There are many things we can do to help reduce the risk of picking up a tick – repellents, proper attire worn correctly, checking pets, etc.

The editorial ends this way.

It makes no sense to expend time and money on a “remedy” that offends many and will do little good.

This comment sounds like it must have come from one down and out sounding animated character most of us are quite familiar with.

Eeyore

First of all, hunting doesn’t offend as many people as I guess the PPH would like us to believe. A small vocal bunch of animal lovers find hunting, along with any kind of animal use including horseback riding, offensive. The vast majority of Maine citizens understand hunting. They are intelligent enough to see how it is beneficial in maintaining a healthy deer population and just as important, they recognize it as part of Maine’s heritage.

We are now to just sit back and accept the fact that a few animal lovers prefer a couple hundred more people to suffer from Lyme disease in order that we don’t offend them. Tell that directly to those individuals and families afflicted with the disease.

The foolish contradictions by the writer(s) just make one scratch their heads. They cite the efforts on Monhegan Island in reducing Lyme disease.

That has led some disease-control agencies to call for a reduction in the state’s deer herd in areas where the infection has spread. In the 1990s, Monhegan virtually eliminated deer there, greatly reducing the number of cases of Lyme.

They acknowledge that eliminating deer on Monhegan eliminated Lyme disease but say that hunting to reduce the population on the mainland is a waste of time. Oh, Eeyore! Might as well just stay inside where it’s safe……sigh!!

This debate is not restricted to parts of Maine. It’s a debate that is raging all across America where communities have banned hunting mostly because of the lies from anti-hunting groups that hunters randomly shoot bullets and arrows into the sky. Now they have a deer overpopulation problem and don’t know what to do about it.

Maybe in the future, facts will be considered before making rash decisions. For the health of us all, lets work to get our lands opened back up so that we can more effectively manage our wildlife.

Tom Remington

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