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Eye Opening Deer Study from Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute

This is a cross post I wrote from our PatriotLWM Blog:

It has long been known that an overpopulation of deer has negative effects on your vehicle when they wander into the roadway infront of you, or your flowers when the deer make their way to your yard, but a study from the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute is pinning a new victim on this overpopulation, our forests. Biologists looked at the effects of deer overpopulation on forest regeneration and how that relates to the growth of invasive species of plants. What they found is sure to be a wake up call for the ecological community who must now look at wildlife management as another tool to protect and ensure the health of their natural community.

Story from WAMU.org:

A world with deer (left) versus a world without them (right). The difference is stark and extends from the ground to the canopy — birds, mice, and chipmunks are more abundant without deer. Courtesy of: Xiaoli Shen

DEER OVERPOPULATION YIELDS DISASTROUS RESULTS FOR FORESTS

SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

WAMU Radio Report

May 23, 2011 – As an ever-rising population of white-tailed deer have bumped up against their human neighbors in the D.C. area, the results haven’t been pretty. There were an estimated 88,000 deer-vehicle collisions in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and Delaware last year.

Dozens of species, some relatively rare, flourish without deer to munch on them. Importantly, young trees are able to survive too. When old trees die, there are plenty of saplings waiting in the wings to take their place — not so in a forest of overpopulated deer. Courtesy of: Xiaoli Shen

But beyond the roads, experts say the deer are also having a major impact on forests, which are unable to replenish themselves to nurture the next generation due to the deer population’s eating habits.

To illustrate this decline in forests during the past several years, a group of scientists blocked off a chunk of woods to the deer more than two decades ago.

A SLICE OF UNTOUCHED, AND UNEATEN, WOODS

It’s called an exclosure, and it’s a place where no deer have trod for decades. Back in 1990, scientists at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., closed off 10 acres of forest with 8-foot high fences to see how the land would evolve without its furry friends.

“So we’re comparing inside the fence to the outside the fence,” says Bill McShea, a wildlife ecologist at SCBI. “And there’s two things of note. One is, it’s green on both sides of the fence but in here it’s a lot more diverse than out there.”

That is an understatement. The deer side of the fence has a carpet of grass, a shrubby looking thing and some large trees — things that are either too big for deer to eat or among the very few plants they don’t like to eat.

Inside is practically a jungle, with dozens of different almost exotic looking plants are tumbling over one another, many of them young trees.

“In here I can see white ash and hickory and red maples and white maples and serviceberry,” McShea says. “A whole bunch of under story and canopy trees that are all now three or four feet tall. We are looking at 20, 30 species. There’s a lot of diversity in here. You look out there, and it’s a much simpler world.”

DEER-EATEN FORESTS RISK DYING

That simpler world is an aging world. Really, it’s a dying world as far as forests go.

“The future is not good. There are no teenagers, there’s no young adults,” McShea says of the trees and other foliage. “Everybody’s a mature individual. Whereas, inside this fence you have the complete profile of ages. You have youngsters, you have teenagers, you have middle-aged adults, you have the old trees.

“And when the old trees go — and they’re going to go, because that’s what happens with old trees, they fall over — there is something here to take its place,” McShea says. “Out there, I don’t see anything out there that’s a small tree.”

These results of the exclosure, although striking, are what scientists could have predicted. One of the surprising things they found, however, is that deer allow invasive species to flourish.

“The Japanese stilt grass is just coming up now as a highly invasive annual grass,” says Norm Bourg, a plant ecologist with SCBI.

The Japanese-origin grass carpets the floor outside the exclosure, but inside, there are many more native species present.

“There’s a lot of native species like horse balm,” Bourg says, gesturing to the plants beneath his feet. “This is black cohosh, which is a native medicinal plant that you hardly ever see out there.”

With fewer native plants outside the exclosure, there are fewer birds there that depend on them for nests and food, and there are also fewer mice and chipmunks when they have to compete with deer.

DEER POPULATION IS RESULT OF RE-POPULATION

But it wasn’t always this way. One hundred years ago, deer were nearly extinct in Maryland and extremely rare in Virginia.

“By that time, you couldn’t find a deer or a turkey or a bear in the state,” McShea says. “Both the habitat changes and the restaurant trade eliminated most of those animals.”

Today’s ubiquitous food trend of “buying local” was the norm back then, and hunting was an industry, says McShea.

“They weren’t going to put a cow on a train in Texas and ship it to Virginia,” McShea says. “If you were going to go to a restaurant, order yourself a steak, for the most part that was a venison steak.”

In the early part of the 1900’s, newly minted state game departments rushed to the rescue, banning or regulating hunting and setting up parks.

“When they made the Shenandoah Park in the 1930s, they went and got deer from Arkansas and brought them back here to repopulate that area,” says McShea. “So growing the deer population was intentional. It’s a conservation story and it went just like they planned.”

A CONSERVATION EFFORT’S UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

The result is that today, there are several million deer, and, as McShea puts it, “the flip side has happened.

“They’re hitting too many cars, there’s too much gardens being eaten, the forest succession is changing,” he continues. “We’ve got to dial that back a little bit.

Deer aren’t evil, McShea is quick to emphasize, but they have no predators now and they need to be managed. States currently rely primarily on scheduled hunts, where the public is allowed to come in and take out deer.

That works well on parkland to some extent, but it doesn’t work on private property or in federal parks, which have been slower to adopt aggressive management.

“We have time for that, we don’t have to make a decision this year,” he says. But we don’t have decades, he adds. Trees don’t live forever.

Usually, species compete for light. But where there are too many deer, they compete on the basis of deer resistance. Few species are unpalatable to deer, so few species prevail and they tend to be invasive. Courtesy of: Xiaoli Shen

Patriot LWM President to speak at Suburban Deer Management Workshop presented by University of Maryland Extension

From the Patriot LWM Blog:

On Tuesday, May 26th 2011 from 8:30am to 3:20pm, deer management professionals from around the state will be presenting to Maryland’s decision makers. The program titled “Suburban Deer Management: Options and Choices for Decision-Makers”, will cover a wide range of topics and issues faced by Maryland’s local government officials, land managers, park officials, police, homeowner associations and more.

Suburban Deer Management 2011 Brochure 

Here is a press release on the program, sign up today:

REGISTER NOW! SUBURBAN DEER MANAGEMENT WORKSHOP

Local government officials, land managers, park managers, police, homeowner associations, non- profit organizations, private property owners, business owners and other decision-makers are invited to attend the workshop, Suburban Deer Management: Options and Choices for Decision-Makers, on May 26, 2011 at the Elks Club in Bowie, MD from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The workshop is being offered by the University of Maryland Extension in partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Deer contribute greatly to our quality of life; however, they have become overabundant in suburban and urban areas, creating major challenges to local decision-makers on how to deal with citizens and their differing views on the issue. On one hand, there are serious safety issues to deal with such as Lyme disease and deer-vehicle collisions. Deer also cause extensive damage to residential landscapes, crops, and natural forests. Some think that populations must be reduced through lethal options and others think that only non-lethal means should be used, such as fencing, repellents, and managing vegetation. Some want a combination of the two.

The workshop is specifically designed for local decision-makers and managers to provide an opportunity to learn from case studies and current research what methods have been used, their effectiveness, and more importantly, how to implement a community-based deer management program in their area. The atmosphere will provide a comfortable learning environment where you can ask hard questions and learn from real life applications. Rather than be reactive, what you learn at this workshop will allow you to work proactively in your locale and, hopefully, avoid the pitfalls. Case studies of successful programs are showcased and the most up-to-date reference materials provided.

More information about registering for the program is available at http://www.naturalresources.umd.edu or by contacting Pam Thomas at the University of Maryland Western Maryland Research & Education Center at 301-432-2767 ext 315. The registration cost is $25 per person which includes lunch and materials.

Agenda:

8:30 a.m. Registration: Coffee and Continental Breakfast
9:00 a.m. Welcome: Jonathan Kays
9:05 a.m. Overview of Deer Management in Maryland
Speaker: Brian Eyler, MD DNR Wildlife & Heritage Service• Population, hunting trends, responsibilities, CWD, upcoming issues
9:30 a.m. Impact of Deer Management Inaction on Natural Ecosystems
Speaker: Anne Hairston-Strang, MD DNR Forest Service
            • Ecosystem impact of deer and ability to rebound
10:00 a.m. Overview of Deer Impacts & Effectiveness of Lethal & Non-Lethal Management Options
Speakers: George Timko, MD DNR Wildlife & Heritage Service, Kevin Sullivan, USDA-APHIS, and Jonathan Kays
            • Trends in deer – vehicle collisions, lyme disease, agricultural & residential landscape damage
           • Fencing, repellents, vegetation management, population management
10:45 a.m. Break
11:00 a.m. Best Practices for Implementing a Managed Hunt Program
Speaker: Phil Norman, Howard County Recreation and Parks Department
           • Details, issues, logistics, and what to expect based on experiences of Howard & Montgomery Counties.
11:30 a.m. Utilizing Organized Hunting Groups & Contractors
Speaker: Joe Brown – Patriot Land & Wildlife Management Services, Inc
• Services provided and available to farmers, Homeowner Associations, local governments, and others.
12:00 p.m. Lunch
12:45 p.m. Barriers & Pitfalls of Community-Based Deer Management
Speakers: George Timko, Kevin Sullivan & Jonathan Kays
• Brief overview of liability concerns, dealing with the vocal minority, paralysis by analysis, gaining consensus, and other realities.
1:15 p.m. Learning by Example: Community-Based Deer Management Efforts That Work
• 20 years of Deer Management in Montgomery County (Rob Gibbs, Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission)
• Accokeek Community Deer Program (Holliday Wagner & Byron Williams, citizens in the community)
• Managing Large & Diverse Properties Owned by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) – (Jim Benton, WSSC)
• Developing a Cooperative Management Program using Quality Deer Management Principles (Kip Adams, Quality Deer Mgt. Assoc.)
2:50 p.m. Question & Answer Session with all speakers – facilitated discussion and questions
3:20 p.m. Evaluation & Adjourn

Directions to Bowie Elks Club
1506 Defense Hwy, Gambrills, MD 21054
Phone 301-261-3260: http://www.bpoe2309.org

• From the Capital Beltway (Rt.95), exit on to Rt. 50 east toward Annapolis.
• Continue east on Rt. 50 until you reach Rt. 3 north towards Crofton.
• Exit onto Rt. 3 north and continue until you reach Defense Highway (Rt.450) east toward Annapolis. Make a right turn onto Rt. 450 east and continue approximately 2 miles.
• Elks Lodge 2309 is on the left side.

Program Continues to Take Deer from “Nuisance to Nutrient”

A neat blog entry I threw together about the way our deer management programs help feed the hungry!

From the Patriot LWM Blog:

The reproductive potential of White-tailed deer is no secret to the majority of citizens today. Often a simple drive down an area roadway will show signs of their presence in the form of an unsightly carcass or an unlucky commuters bumper laying near the shoulder. You may have even shaken your head at the sight and thought to yourself, “What a waste!”. Well you weren’t alone.

In early 2004, as populations of White-tailed deer continued to climb (along with the associated crop damage) despite historically liberal harvest limits for local hunters, area wildlife managers were left scratching their heads. Why would the overall population of deer continue to climb despite increased hunting opportunities for local hunters? What was the limiting factor in the reduction effort and how do we correct it?

With the help of a landowner survey revealing the increasing environmental, health, safety and economic problems caused by the overpopulation of white-tailed deer, the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and other County departments asked this very same question. How do we reduce the number of deer without creating wanton waste and possibly fill another void?

In the end the answer was not so much the lack of will, but the need for a way.

The Problem:

Regardless of hunter harvest opportunities, the average household freezer holds packaged meat from up to 2 processed deer. Some hunters were able to find family and friends who could use the meat from other harvest deer, but often their freezers filled up quickly as well. The hunters desire to harvest more deer in support of a sustainable population was there, but the avenue to distribute that meat was not. Meanwhile, the freezers of local area food banks didn’t stay quite as full and the stomachs of less fortunate families faired about the same. Enter the DED, area farmers and a non-profit by the name of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

The Solution:

The DED Agricultural Services Division along with FHFH and area farmers worked with various agencies within Montgomery County as part of this County-wide deer management effort to find a solution. The solution? A County-funded deer donation program to help connect the increased harvest from hunters with the areas shelters and food banks.

The Deer Donation Program encouraged farmers and hunters to harvest more deer in a responsible manner by providing local, minimum- hassle deer collection sites, of which there are two in Montgomery County. Hunters would drop off their harvested deer at these refrigerated trailer collection sites which would in-turn be transported to a certified meat processor. Once processed, the meat is then donated to the Capital Area Food Bank which distributes the meat to food banks and shelters across the Washington Metro area.

Results

The program is currently administered in partnership with Patriot Land and Wildlife Management Services that coordinates the collection, processing, and donation of venison to food banks in the local area. From it’s humble beginnings of 39 donated deer in the 2004-2005 season, the 2010-2011 season proved to be the best yet with 401 deer being donated. These 401 deer equate to over 16,000 pounds of meat donated to the areas less fortunate.

The Deer Donation Program has invested $140,000 over 7 years. The value of the Program is calculated to be upwards of $255,000. This is based on the value of the meat collected (49,080 lbs at $2/lb) and the value of the crops not consumed from agricultural fields (1,227 deer harvested, 2,000 lbs of grain saved for each deer harvested (2,454,000 lbs.), value of grain estimated at $3.671/bushel). This does not include the reduction in vehicular damage caused by deer vs. vehicle collisions or many of the other negative economic impacts resulting from an overpopulation of deer.

Even despite the apparent economic success of the program, the true value to those families in need is something that is hard to put a price on.

The program has spawned the creation of several other similar donation programs throughout Maryland over the past few years. Hopefully with renewed support from local officials, this program can continue to  fill a need on multiple fronts.

Read a complete summary of the 2010-2011 results here:

Check out a past newspaper article about the program here:

Chronic Wasting Disease Makes its First Appearance in Maryland

Another blog I drafted up on the Patriot LWM blog:

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that a White-tailed Deer harvested in Maryland has tested positive in laboratory testing for Chronic Wasting Disease. A hunter in Allegany County reported taking the deer on November 27, 2010 in Green Ridge State Forest. Maryland is now one of 20 other states and Canadian provinces with CWD documented in deer, elk or moose.

Many details of the disease are unknown, but below our some links and a great video from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on CWD.

Chronic Wasting Disease Found In Maryland – MD QDMA Statement

Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Office CWD Info Page

Maryland DNR 2011 CWD Response Plan

Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance Website

OE Podcast about CWD with MD-QDMA President E.W. Grimes