The Future of Whitetail Deer
There has probably been no animal or species in North America more thoroughly researched, studied, and observed than the whitetail deer. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent learning more about these animals, and for some biologists, it is their entire life’s work. Thousands of books have been written about whitetails, thousands of documentaries filmed, and numerous studies published about these majestic animals. But why? Why all of this money and effort into studying a four-legged ungulate that has no real scientifically remarkable abilities, like pushing a button to get food when they hear a sound, or using tools in their wilderness survival like many species do? While I would never under estimate the whitetail’s survival capabilities, these deer are studied more for one reason; how to keep their populations healthy while the human population expands. The reason is simple, it’s in our nation’s best economic interest to have as many whitetail deer as we can sustain.
I have written many times about the success of wildlife management, and most recently some studies show that wild turkey has replaced the whitetail deer as the most sought after game animal. But you can’t ignore the facts of the economic impact of deer hunters. There are approximately 14 million hunters in the United States today, and each of those hunters feeds the economy by purchasing licenses, weapons, camping gear, clothing, and other hunting gear. And when deer season rolls around, the local economies of rural towns are fueled by hunters coming to their area; staying in motels, eating at restaurants, buying groceries and gas, hiring guides and outfitters, and purchasing whatever else they need for their trip. These numbers below were released last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the economic impact in 2012 from hunting in general, not just whitetails:
Hunting Quick Facts
13.7 million hunters
$38.3 billion in total expenditures
$86.9 billion in overall economic output
$26.4 billion in salaries and wages generated
680,937 jobs supported
$5.4 billion in state and local taxes generated
$6.4 billion in federal taxes
$1.6 billion annually in dedicated wildlife conservation funding
That is a serious economic impact to our country! The problem is that we continue to expand into the habitat needed for whitetail deer. What used to be wilderness is now someone’s backyard, and those home owners get upset when deer come in and eat up the flowers they planted last weekend. Our suburban sprawl also results in more collisions between cars and deer, causing damage to humans and deer alike. The problem with urbanization is that the deer become accustomed to humans, and their flowers and vegetable gardens, yet the herds can’t be controlled by hunting because you can’t go hunting deer where there are children playing in back yards. And to further the problem deer are able to grow their numbers at astronomical rates if the conditions are right and there is a lack of predation.
So you can see the dilemma; how do we maintain healthy populations of deer while sustaining a balance between humans and the deer. The key is quality habitat, because while a deer population may thrive for a while in a suburban environment with plenty to eat and freedom from predators, the herd will eventually outgrow what the environment can provide. The answer is conservation of the wild lands that we have left on this continent, and those are shrinking on a daily basis. Where I used to hunt as a teenager in Kansas is now a shopping center. I can’t even recognize the land, it is covered with buildings and looks totally different than it did 30 years ago. There are no pheasants there anymore, but I’m sure there are some deer still living in small areas of woodlands who feed on golf courses and backyards for the majority of their diet. To me, that’s not wilderness.
The economics of the world also impact our deer here at home. When the demand for U.S.-grown crops increases, the habitat for deer decreases, and so do their populations. When the demand for crops decreases, less ground is farmed, and more habitat results in more deer. In some places, because of these fluctuations, it is more profitable for farmers to turn their land into prime habitat for hunting permanently and open their land to paying hunters, thus becoming land stewards rather than farmers.
My reason for this article is simply to raise awareness in people. You might be reading this if you are an avid hunter, and you have your place to hunt every year, and you are happy. To you, my question would be; will your children have the same? You might not be a hunter, you might just like the outdoors and stumbled across this article and found it interesting. To you, I would ask what you are doing to maintain the wild lands that you like to visit. But really the question is to all of us; what are we doing now, and what will we do to ensure the health of our wild animals and wild places for the generations to come?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but there are some tangible things we can do today. The first thing you can do is support your state’s wildlife management organization, whether you fish or hunt, or not. Just because you don’t fish or hunt doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the success of the preservation of our wilderness and wildlife. There are also many conservation organizations out there today whose goal is to maintain wildlife habitat. I contribute to Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, The National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Of these, I have to say that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has the most impact simply because of the amount of land it requires to support elk herds, and in preserving that amount of land you are also going to preserve habitat for fish and other wildlife. All of these organizations, and many others, are non-profit organizations whose goal is to make sure we have these wild places, animals, and fish for future generations.
I often think of what this country would be like today had it not been for conservationists back in the early 1900’s when our game populations were at their lowest. If you compare the human population in 1900 (76,212,168) to 2000 (281,421,906), it’s amazing that we have the wildlife that we do today when most game animals were nearly decimated. All I can say is I am glad for the people back then who had the foresight to do something about our game populations, and I feel it is my duty to do the same now.