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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

Society’s Tolerance for Deer


Managing deer is a much bigger issue that catering to the desires of hunters, despite the fact that hunter pay the lion's share of the cost for wildlife management. As an example of contrast, bird watchers pay virtually nothing. They don't buy a birdwatching license, and they don't buy products that put money into the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund. That's where most of the dollars for wildlife management come from.


Today, we're offering some insight into the huge constituency the Pennsylvania Game Commission has. It's not just hunters. By law, it's every person in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, whether a person is a hunter or not.


That means the PGC is balancing wildlife management with all sorts of interests asking questions the average person doesn't ask:

  • How does this decision affect the general public?

  • Will the public tolerate more (or less) deer?

  • What will be the impact of this decision on the habitat?

  • What other species in the shared habitat will be affected?

  • Does this decision make biological sense?

  • Is this decision good for the resource?

  • What will be the impact of this decision in two years, five years, ten years?


This week's column looks broadly at the social aspect of deer management—particularly deer.

Above photo: The life of this beautiful buck ended in a collision with a car—one of the social costs to living with deer. The higher the population of deer, the more this will happen. (Steve Sorensen photo)


My bi-weekly newspaper column, "The Everyday Hunter," appears in the Forest County News Journal (Tionesta, PA) and the Corry Journal (Corry, PA), both part of the Sample News Group. If you'd like to see "The Everyday Hunter" in your local newspaper, have your editor contact me.

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To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.



Society’s Tolerance for Deer

Steve Sorensen


Do we have enough deer? Do we have too many? Who’s to say?  

 

Ask some hunters, and they’ll say we don’t have enough deer. They want more, and they have lots of reasons. They relate the number of deer they see to the quality of the hunt. To them, a better hunting experience is defined by seeing maybe 30 deer in a day—or even 50! Some even think seeing lots of deer is the mark of a healthy deer population.

 

Some hunters worry that we don’t have enough deer to keep new hunters interested. They believe a higher deer population would make hunter recruitment easier. After all, who wants to occupy a hunting stand all day and see only a handful of deer? Some hunters look to the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, or even the ’90s—the years when the deer population exploded—as the good old “traditional” days of deer hunting.

 

Ask non-hunters how many deer is enough, and you’ll get different answers. Some abhor the idea that any deer will be shot by hunters. Many view neighborhood deer as a positive feature of their residential properties. They enjoy watching them—especially the spotted fawns they see in the spring and summer. For others, the cost of deer damage to landscaping is extreme.

 

Managers of timber have the responsibility to grow trees, not just for profit but to supply the housing industry with lumber and the furniture industry with high quality hardwoods. The problem is that deer eat the seedlings that would otherwise grow into harvestable trees. So, too many deer reduce profits and raise consumer prices. Too many deer also hurt ordinary private landowners who use timber sales to offset their annual property tax bill.

 

Farmers often say we have too many deer. During the season when crops are ripening, deer congregate in crop fields and have a negative impact on a farmer’s livelihood. By the time fall deer season is underway, deer have moved to greener pastures somewhere else because their summer food is in the barn or on the way to markets.

 

Insurance companies also take an economic hit, and insurance rates are higher in states with a high probability of deer collisions. U.S. drivers submitted about 1.8 million animal collision insurance claims between July 2022 and June 2023. Pennsylvania’s share was 153,397, by far mostly deer. New York’s is about 65,000 annually. The human cost is high, and it doesn’t just hit pocketbooks. In an average year deer cause 440 tragic human fatalities.

 

Other human constituents have an interest. When too many deer populate an area, they devour low-growing wild shrubs, exactly the kind of habitat songbirds nest in. So anyone interested in songbirds might not know it, but a high deer population reduces the number of birds they can feed, watch and photograph.

 

Since deer are a “keystone species” (a species with a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance), deer will affect the welfare of most wildlife they share habitat with. Songbirds, wildflowers, ruffed grouse—an overpopulation of deer means too few of many plant and animal species.

 

Who wants the responsibility of keeping all those constituents happy, and making sure all game species and non-game species can thrive? While game agencies do their best, they don’t avoid criticism from every interest group. They must rely on the best wildlife biology and habitat science in setting target goals for deer harvests so that all wildlife can thrive.

 

Determining the right number of deer is a highwire act balancing the interests of deer hunters, residential homeowners, timber companies, owners of private woodlots, farmers, insurance companies, birdwatchers and others, all the while making sure the health of the forests remains optimal for the needs not only of deer, but for other wildlife sharing the habitat.

 

Do we have enough deer? Do we have too many? If we ever allow game agencies to become political pawns subject to those who apply the most pressure, the result will be disastrous. Why? Because society has too many varied interests for wildlife to be managed by the will of the majority—which could easily overrule hunters. The only path forward is for game agencies to make decisions based on scientific wildlife management.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com.


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