Friday, January 6, 2012

Logging Bill Exposes Incoherent Deer Policy and Unseemly Partnerships

With good reason, legislation to allow commercial logging of state lands has divided conservation groups. Cutting within forests is routine game propagation practice to enhance deer range and stimulate reproduction.
Describing the benefits of clear-cutting, authorities note that habitat has a major influence on deer reproduction. Clear-cutting forces earlier breeding. At higher numbers, deer may not be bred until the 2nd or 3rd estrus.[1] As the number of females increases, births decline, because there is less food available per deer.[2] The percentage of fawns and yearlings who breed early depends on their physical development, which is based on food supply. [3]

Conversely, more mature forests mean fewer deer. As of June, 2011, Virginia’s hunters were concerned over a decline in national forest deer. The deer herd and kill had plummeted, especially on national forest land.[4] The understory that was the result of timber harvests and game management had matured, explained state biologists.

Whitetail deer did not spontaneously irrupt; the species was pushed. In 1977, the Journal of Wildlife Management reported that “deer herds are being managed with ever-increasing intensity. The primary management plan has been directed at increasing the productivity of the white-tailed deer through habitat manipulation and harvest regulation” (Mirarchi et al 1977).[5] Far from limiting the herd, commercial hunting served to force peak reproduction.

New Jersey Audubon, which promotes the systemic killing of deer to protect “forest systems,” is the major supporter of a bill that will create more deer -- in state forests. The resulting deer are expendable, and will justify Audubon’s commercial partner’s coveted hunter access to public and private land.

Moreover, the cutting proposed by New Jersey Audubon and its commercial partners, including logging interests, will exacerbate any long-term impact of deer grazing. National experts report that there are particular points in time when the direction and speed of forest succession is sensitive to deer browsing. In the absence of large-scale disturbances the forest canopy is resistant to change despite large amounts of under-story herbivory. (Cross and McShea 2003). Commercial timbering is such a disturbance.

Ornithologists studying the aftermath of Bureau of Land Management forest cuts for deer report that birds associated with mature forests declined.[6] Experts report that forest management for deer “may not hold for other organisms, such as forest interior birds, salamanders and wildflowers.”[7]
With hunter-client numbers plummeting and in pursuit of public cash, the government-firearms manufacturer partnership that has controlled U.S. wildlife policy for a century has ‘partnered” with cooperative conservation groups, primarily Audubon, national and state.

The Teaming with Wildlife Steering Committee is teeming with commercial interests, including the Archery Trade Association, ATK Ammunition Systems, Taurus International (“nature related businesses”). New Jersey Audubon is the group’s New Jersey co-director.

Senator Smith and Audubon also proposed legislation to expand poaching practices long deemed unsporting, unsafe, and unethical -- killing, with any weapon, directly over bait, shooting from cars and trucks --to destroy deer on forest stewardship lands, many managed and leased by hunting clubs to propagate deer. 

Enough with vague “stewardship” nostrums, commercial deals, and hidebound policy that repeats the mistakes of the past. New Jersey’s wild lands and wildlife are held in trust for all of its citizens. The latter are not in on this deal.

[1]Voight, D. et al, “Forest Management Guidelines for the Provision of White-tailed Deer Habitat,” Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (Aug. 1997)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Cochran, B. Hunters concerned over decline in national forest deer. June 2011.
[5] Mirarchi, R., Scanlon, P., Kirkpatrick, R. Annual Changes in Spermatazoan Production and Associated Organs of the White-tailed Deer. Journal of Wildlife Management. 1977. 92.
[6] Varble, Bill, “Study: Birds flee thinned areas,” Mail Tribune (21 Sept 2003)
[7] McShea, William J. et al, The Science of Overabundance, Smithsonian Institution Press (1997)