We consider many different factors when determining what activities to permit on Nature Conservancy preserves. First and foremost, we consider whether an activity will damage - or in some cases improve - the natural resource values we seek to preserve. The Conservancy also considers community values, safety and management issues.
We encourage hunting in some places in New York as a management tool to improve forest health in areas where game populations have grown beyond the forest’s capacity to support them.
Q: Why does the deer population need to be managed?
A: Deer are a natural, native component of our ecosystems. We should expect deer on our preserves and these deer will naturally eat the vegetation. With the absence of predators and lack of hunting pressure, in many areas the deer population has exceeded the ecological carrying capacity.
This results in a depleted understory with few shrubs, reproducing trees or wildflowers. These forests often look like manicured forested parks, picturesque to those who do not understand that this forest “structure” (i.e. multi-age trees, shrubs, and wildflowers) is needed to support numerous songbirds, amphibians, and other animals.
In addition, if a forest is unable to grow new trees and saplings, then there will be no young to replace older trees that eventually fall. In some forests, only those trees not palatable to deer are reproducing. This type of regeneration will result in the loss of oaks, maples and other trees important to the life cycles of numerous plants, animals, and insects, resulting in significant system-wide changes to the forest community.
Our goal is to manage the deer population for healthier deer and healthier forests.
Q: Are there natural predators that would do a better job?
A: Prior to European settlement, natural predators were much more common. These predators included mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, bear, and humans. With habitat fragmentation and fear of these various predators, reintroduction of mountain lions and wolves is not feasible. Coyotes are certainly rebounding, but in many areas, the conflicts between coyotes and humans may be no better than the conflicts created by deer. The only natural predator we can reintroduce in a controlled and highly managed manner is humans.
There are diseases that threaten the deer population (e.g. chronic wasting disease and epizootic hemorrhagic disease). If the deer population is not better managed, we could see a rapid increase in disease. There is also the chance that these diseases can spread from deer to cattle and other live stock, so controlling their spread is critical.
Q: Why now? How has The Nature Conservancy previously managed deer?
A: The Conservancy has previously allowed hunting on preserve lands on a case by case basis. Typically if hunting was allowed on the property prior to our acquisition of the land and if hunting was important to the local community, we allowed the hunting to continue.
As the deer population has increased, the damage to our lands and the subsequent impacts to other species have also increased. This damage has reached the point today where our lands face serious threats and species of conservation need are at great risk. As such, we are abandoning our use of traditional hunting simply to support local traditions. Today, hunters are considered critical land managers. Working with hunters, we aim to reduce the impacts of deer on preserve lands and bring the deer herd into better balance with the surrounding landscape.
Q: When is hunting allowed on Conservancy land?
A: Hunting is permitted when necessary to protect native plants and animals. We use carefully managed hunting as a tool to reduce the damage caused by deer populations, allowing the natural communities to recover their vigor and diversity.
Q: Can I hunt on Conservancy lands?
A: In order to have controlled hunts that are effective, safe and meet our ecological management goals, most preserves hunts are coordinated through local fish and game clubs or similar organizations. This allows us to establish a long-term relationship. We do allow general hunting at two preserves: Sam’s Point and Ward Farm. To hunt these preserve, you must complete a hunter permit application. These are available from the offices of these two sites. For more information, please contact Troy Weldy at (518) 690-7841 or email@example.com.
Q: What factors does the Conservancy consider when determining where to allow hunting?
A: We consider several factors when determining what activities to permit on any Conservancy preserve. First, we document deer impacts and hypothesize what changes would occur if the deer population were reduced versus allowing the population to self-maintain. If a reduction is desired, the safety of preserve visitors, neighbors, and hunters is of the utmost importance. If a hunt cannot be conducted safely, then no hunting shall take place. The Conservancy also considers community values, preserve usage and other management issues.
Q: What safety practices are used at reserves where deer hunting occurs?
A: Safety is the Conservancy’s number one priority with all of our managed deer hunts and we follow several guidelines at each of our preserves to ensure that our deer management practices are safe.
Hunting notices indicating either the dates the preserve will be closed and/or when hunting will take place are posted at access points at each of the preserves. Neighbors of the preserves are notified in advance via a letter from the Conservancy. Press releases are issued to local press announcing the hunts and if applicable, the closure of the preserves. DEC Forest Rangers and other appropriate enforcement offices are notified of these hunts and when they will and will not occur.
Anyone found violating our strict rules will be ticketed and prevented from participating in future hunts. Hunters invited to participate must exhibit efficient marksmanship, ethical culling practices and knowledge of deer biology.
Q: Are hunting licenses required to hunt on the preserves?
A: New York hunting licenses are required to hunt on Conservancy preserves. Special restrictions apply to hunting on our preserves and written permission is also required. In most cases, hunting is coordinated through a local fish and game club. In exchange, that club helps maintain preserve trails and perform other ecological management duties. Volunteers with the necessary state licenses and who pass testing are also eligible to hunt on our lands.
Q: Why lethal hunting? Are alternatives, like birth control, fencing, or relocation being considered?
A: While some groups may advocate contraceptive control measures, this approach has several drawbacks: Contraceptive control measures are currently commercially unavailable, and field testing has provided mixed results with high costs (estimates of $1000 per deer were reported by the Northeast Deer Technical Committee 2008). While the use of contraceptives has proved effective on captive deer, none have yet proved effective in controlling populations of wild, free-ranging deer (Bishop et al. 2007).
As stated by DeNicola et al. (2000): “Unfortunately, much confusion surrounds the status of fertility control agents. The lack of public understanding regarding the availability and practicality of fertility control has caused unnecessary delays in the implementation of effective management programs, because fertility control is perceived as the ideal solution. To put fertility control technology in perspective, after four decades of research, effective anti-fertility programs for controlling populations of free-ranging wildlife simply do not exist.”
This conclusion was also verified by Audubon Pennsylvania (Latham et al. 2005). Furthermore, no fertility control agents have been federally approved for the management of wildlife populations in the United States, and application of fertility control to wildlife can only occur within a research context (Jeremy Hurst, NYS DEC State Deer Biologist, pers. comm.). Four such research studies have occurred within New York. More research is needed with contraception before this can be depended upon for cost effective control; TNC preserves may offer an ideal setting for future contraception testing. At this time though, contraception is not a feasible option.
Another approach involves so-called “relocation programs”, but these have proven very stressful on deer with the vast majority of deer suffering for long periods and ultimately not surviving. A third alternative is the fencing of our properties to exclude deer. Unfortunately, this also restricts the movements of other animals. In addition, fencing is very expensive and very difficult to maintain. Fencing is just not practical in forest preserve settings due to continuous damage from falling trees and limbs. At this time, the only feasible management program available to us is culling.
Q: What happens to deer taken from the property?
A: All meat taken from our property is expected to be consumed. Hunters are encouraged to participate in a venison donation program that provides healthy venison to food pantries and homeless shelters. Venison is recognized as a healthier alternative to beef, both for the consumer and the environment. Deer are free of artificial hormones, organically raised and locally derived. Consuming venison actually reduces one’s carbon footprint.
Q: Is it safe to access these preserves during the hunting season?
A: Some preserves will be closed during the hunting season, particularly smaller preserves, to ensure the safety of visitors and hunters. The larger preserves will be open to hunting and hiking. As a general rule, it is advised that hikers and dogs wear blaze orange or florescent pink during the hunting season. This is especially important when hiking state lands or other unknown properties. Those hunting Conservancy preserves have gone through a special permit approval process and must exhibit the highest safety and ethics standards. They are reminded to know their target and know their background. Even on our properties, we have cited non-approved hunters for trespassing. While we do not anticipate problems, we still recommend the use of blaze orange or florescent pink.
Q: When do you expect the forests to recover?
A: The results will not be immediate. This is a long-term solution to a problem that has taken 30 years to reach its current epidemic. We anticipate that measured differences will be observed within five years of the start of this program. The casual hiker may not notice much difference until we are well beyond this five year period. To help expedite visualizing the change we might expect, educational deer exclosures will be established at select preserves. These deer exclosures should highlight changes within two to three years. These exclosures will give an idea of the potential within these forests and allow today’s hikers to envision what the forest may look like in 10+ years.
Q: Do other conservation organizations share your concern?
A: Besides working with local fish & game clubs and the Quality Deer Management Association, both of which are concerned about the health of the broader environment, we are beginning to establish a coalition of partners that share similar concerns about deer management. This coalition will include Audubon, the NYS Conservation Council, NYS Forest Owners Association, NYS Farm Bureau, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, NYS Office of Parks and Recreation, and many others. This is an issue that continues to be a growing concern for many partners.
Bishop, P, J. Glidden, M. Lowery, and D. Riehlman. 2007. A Citizen’s Guide to the Management of White-tailed Deer in Urban and Suburban New York. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY. 13 pp. Available online at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/ctguide07.pdf.
deCalesta, David and Timothy G. Pierson. 2005. Deer Density Estimation and Deer Browse Impact Survey Protocols 2005-06. Wildlife Analysis and Penn State Cooperative Extension.
DeNicola, Anthony J., Kurt C. VerCauteren, Paul D. Curtis, and Scott E. Hygnstrom. 2000. Managing White-tailed Deer in Suburban Environments: A Technical Guide. Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Wildlife Society–Wildlife Damage Management Working Group, and the Northeast Wildlife Damage Research and Outreach Cooperative. ISBN 1-57753-296-1. 52 pp.
Latham, R. E., J. Beyea, M. Benner, C. A. Dunn, M. A. Fajvan, R. R. Freed, M. Grund, S. B. Horsley, A. F. Rhoads and B. P. Shissler. 2005. Managing White-tailed Deer in Forest Habitat From an Ecosystem Perspective: Pennsylvania Case Study. Report by the Deer Management Forum for Audubon Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance, Harrisburg. xix + 340 pp.
Northeast Deer Technical Committee. 2008. An Evaluation of Deer Management Options. New England Chapter of The Wildlife Society and the Northeast Deer Technical Committee. 28 pp. Available online at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/Deermgtopt08.pdf.
US Forest Service. 2008. Impacts of White-tailed Deer Overabundance in Forest Ecosystems: An Overview. Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Durham, NH. 8pp.November 07, 2012