Clean up the System

Instead of Killing More Deer, Clean up the System

Susan Russell, Wildlife Policy Director

Citing abuse, several Warren County farmers wrote to Governor Christie Whitman in 1997 opposing a bill, now law, to expand statewide community killing of deer.  Shooters already pursued deer night and day, they said. Others offered illegal bounties for the animals’ ears. Live fawns, shot and “screaming” in pain, “were thrown into the back of pick-up trucks.” Law enforcement was negligible. [1]

The self-interests who for a century have managed wildlife for their own profit and preference are again demanding more killing of the persecuted whitetail. For how that’s done, see above. It’s an open secret that the same parties’ mutually lucrative “stewardship” campaigns logging “small game” hunting areas – and deer breeding range – are farming more deer, as are baiting deer and bear and planting deer-preferred crops on leased hunting lands.

Science has long promoted the preservation of contiguous forests for rare forest interior species, wildlife corridors, and forest health. One upshot of allowing nature, instead of trade associations, to design her own forests is far fewer deer. Canopy prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor, thus providing less browse for deer. Why then are commercial logging and fragmentation of forests suddenly fashionable?

First, dispense with the illusion that public wildlife is managed by and for the public, or at the state level.  An insular, cozy national combine of gun, ammo, and archery manufacturers; timber companies; fur and trapping associations; longtime ally Audubon, national and most state societies, and government bureaucrats –slice up the pie for profit and preference, or perceived competition with hunted species. The losers — Mute swans, Canada geese, snow geese and other birds, foxes, raccoons, opossums –and all huntable wildlife –are brutally shot or trapped, usually under the discredited guise of “protecting” something else, and often at the expense of Lyme disease prevention and forest health.

The Tick Project says that deer have gotten “a false rap.” Harvard’s School of Public Health warns that “killing deer is not the answer.” Predators, infected ticks, acorns, and fragmentation regulate numbers of infected ticks. In the eastern U.S., risk of contracting Lyme disease is higher in fragmented forests with high rodent densities and low numbers of resident fox, opossum, and raccoons. Trapping these beneficial animals for bird shooting isn’t “stewardship,” it’s antiquated ignorance.

The state and private clubs release captive -raised pheasants and quail –enfeebled birds with no survival skills, some of whom approach humans for food –for canned shoots in fragmented woodlands, and trap natural predators.  Logging indisputably increases reproduction in deer.  Because logging near farmlands grows deer, more logging will permanently expand ecologically damaging and inhumane practices.

Studies in the United States and Canada[i] confirm that baiting, banned in New York and Pennsylvania yet encouraged in New Jersey, increases deer density, reproduction, and conflict.[ii] Baiting changes tree species composition and retards forest regeneration by concentrating deer who continue to feed on natural browse. It increases predation on ground nesting birds. The combine blames the deer.

Under what the press called “a storm of protest from environmentalists who argued that the measure would lead to more logging and more destruction of public lands,” New Jersey Audubon and the state Farm Bureau promote a suite of bills to force public and non-profit landowners to create forest “stewardship”- read logging -plans, and to kill, by nearly any means, the deer that result from their logging regimes. If this sounds ethically bankrupt, it is.

In the U.S., the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) – SIGARMS Corporation; Taurus International, ATK ammunition- enjoy partnership agreements with federal and state wildlife agencies. WMI “molds” state resource agencies, “working away from the limelight to catalyze and facilitate strategies, actions and decisions.”[2] Partnered with Interior’s Cooperative Research Units, the gun makers review state and federal programs. Their chief agenda:  recruitment of hunter/customers to counter plummeting numbers and aging out. Hunt initiation begins with smaller animals such as quail, pheasant and rabbits, in logged and fragmented forests.

New Jersey Audubon runs a thriving satellite business developing logging plans and conducting “active” management such as re-stocking the vulnerable Bobwhite quail for shooting. A canned hunt club gave the group $140,000 to develop a hotly contested logging plan for Sparta Mountain.

Expanded hunts, some approaching their fourth decade, are technical failures that result in resurgent deer, often rising auto collisions, increased effort and expense to kill fewer deer, significant taxpayer costs– and perpetual hunts. When claimed forest regeneration fails to materialize, the stock response is to claim “success” and kill more deer – with the same results.

The conservation vogue of scapegoating deer, applying glib generalities and “potential” damage to all situations, has earned smack downs from world-class authorities. Yale University studies (2010) determined that deer density was not a leading factor in determining variation in vegetation impacts in Connecticut: “The empirical basis for presumptions that white-tailed deer cause forest regeneration failure is limited.”

Where problems exist, non-lethal management – for deer, beaver, geese, and other wildlife, is available. The non-hunting public pays a whopping 96 percent of conservation costs in the U.S. Laws should reflect that fact, not thwart it.  It’s time to break up the entrenched combine that has for too long monopolized a public treasure.

[1] (Kelsey, J. 1997. Letter to Governor Whitman).

[1] (Mission Statement, Jan 2000. Removed/revised.)

[1] (Kelsey, J. 1997. Letter to Governor Whitman).

[2] (Mission Statement, Jan 2000.  Removed/revised.)