New Jersey Audubon White Paper Summary

G Scholl

FCDMA Commentary:
This white paper by the Audubon Society is an excellent summary of the ecological consequences of overpopulation by deer. Pages 8 to 13 are on White-tailed deer: It states all the facts, gives historical deer densities before European settlement and arguments for effectively dealing with the deer herd and is just as relevant to Connecticut too. The Audubon Society seem to be one of a very few organisations that have the courage of their convictions and understand the real issues and the potential environmental disaster in the making if responsible action is not taken. 

Summary of the paper:
This Policy Paper addresses contributing factors to the white-tailed deer overpopulation problem and potential solutions.  Historically there were far fewer deer before European settlement. "Methods used to estimate pre-settlement deer densities have reported an average density of 2 to 4.2 deer per sq km (around 3 to 6 deer per square mile) (McCabe and McCabe 1997; Alverson et al 1988). Present day deer densities exceed these estimates with some local populations of deer as high as 78 deer per sq km." It describes how the herd has until now been managed for maximum deer numbers for hunters, how supplemental feeding only concentrates deer, that deer browse causes loss of bio-mass with loss of both plant and animal species and alteration of species composition of a forest, avian species impacts and losses. The "Potential solutions" discusses the high cost of fencing and its unwanted side-effect of altering the home ranges and dispersal of turtles and mammals. Reproductive control is ruled out too-and they state that it only works with population reduction. Relocation is ruled out because of the advent of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.  Lethal culling is the only option for effective herd management: its greatest drawback is public perception. Traditional deer management only exacerbates the problem. Despite attempts of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife "to tackle NJ's escalating deer problem through its hunting program, with increase in antlerless does and overall harvest, problems still persist in the form of deer overabundance." Wildlife management to facilitate hunting opportunities has been a key contributor to deer overpopulation as it centered for years on maximum sustainable yield, which is well above deer levels associated with sustaining biodiversity and regeneration of woodlands. ie the biological carrying capacity of the land for deer greatly exceeds the ecological carrying capacity of the habitat. The paper then states that "the need for change is obvious". The New Jersey Audubon Society  say they will advocate for state policies that focus the management of deer on "ecosystem health rather than producing the highest numbers of animals for hunters to harvest."