Blight of the White-Tailed Deer

Some have asked for more Eastern stories on this blog.. here’s the link.

Forest Buffet: Blight of the White-Tailed Deer
Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9:24AM
ecoRI News

By MEREDITH HAAS/ecoRI News contributor

White-tailed deer are prevalent in Rhode Island.NORTH KINGSTOWN — East Coast forests are literally being eaten away, according to Thomas Rawinski of the USDA Forest Service. “I’m convinced that deer are the single greatest threat to eastern forests,” he said during his March 29 presentation at a Rhode Island History Survey conference entitled “Trends in Human-Wildlife Interaction” that was held at the Quonset ‘O’ Club.

Deer impair a forest’s ability to regenerate by attacking native species and consuming everything in sight, he said, noting that we’re seeing major shifts ecologically as deer have overwhelmed and drastically changed the landscape and culturally by how society views nature and its role within it.

“Rhode Island forests were much different 25 years ago,” Rawinski said. “I love deer, but I hate what people have allowed them to do to Rhode Island forests.”

The crux of the problem, he said, is that deer increase the economic and esthetic benefits, but also cause more harm because there are so adaptable and such a prolific prey species. “They’re adaptable and can live amongst us,” Rawinski said. “They’ve beguiled us with beauty and grace.”

White-tailed deer are selective eaters when there is an abundance of food, but as their population increases their diet shifts to low-preference species and increases impact on plants such as viburnum, pink lady slippers, wild sarsaparilla and American beech. As a result of their voracious appetite, diversity in plant species is lost and impairs a forest from regenerating.

It’s a human-caused problem that revolves around the predator control issue, Rawinski said. “We tried to gentrify nature and exclude unsavory characters,” he said, noting that hunters and other predators are seen as unsavory characters. “Nature has its own rules and deer come back with a vengeance when land is used for passive recreation.”

Rawinski’s goal is to get people concerned before there is a problem. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” he said. “People become concerned once the population as already exploded.”

The white-tailed deer population (pdf) becomes a problem when the environment is changed in a way that interferes with how it should function, causing an increase in disease and an increased risk to public health. In 2004, there were an estimated 15,800 white-tailed deer in Rhode Island, and their population is still rising, according to the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

3 thoughts on “Blight of the White-Tailed Deer”

  1. I wonder whether or not there were wolves? Mt Loins? And I wonder whether such might be a part of the solution. That ought to be an interesting “public deliberation” topic. Yep. Looks like wolves were once part of that ecosystem:

    I remember one of the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists talking to people in Jackson Hole, WY about what their feelings/chatter would be when wolves began snatching pet poodles from their front porches. That, alongside talking with them about the need to reintroduce wolves (else hunting) in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks because of the “Elk Problem.”

  2. Well here in the mountain West those pesky (could be more nasty, but will temper this) white-tails are ruling and ruining our towns with their relentless chomping of any/all plants lower than 10 feet in height. All it takes is a few Bambi-lovers who feed the poor dears, and the result is an onslaught of deer who literally live in town, ramble from yard to yard eating everything in sight. Eight-foot deer fences are common now in many yards and even front lawn areas, hoping to preserve thousands of dollars of plant investments.
    We seem to have adequate wolves and cougars and bobcats and coyotes in the forests, but these don’t help the urban deer plague. It has gotten so bad that I actually mentally cheer whenever I see a dead one along the roadway.

    • Yep. I’ve been wondering when we will see them here in UT. I heard a rumor that they were already in the Bear Lake Valley astride the UT/ID border. We have enough of a problem with resident mule deer eating gardens, and orchards, and with bucks raking antlers in the late summer, ruining small fruit trees. It is a struggle, and predators are not a complete answer.

      But part of the problem is us. Here in Utah all the lower foothills are covered with houses, in the area where once we had mule deer winter range. And in the old days, if a deer wandered into someone’s orchard, it quickly became camp meat. The old “shoot and shut-up” routine.

      But woe unto anyone who will dare utter the words: “Too many people. WAKE UP!”


Leave a Comment