Abstract

Title:  These were the good ole days: a new paradigm for white-tailed deer management.
Author(s): Kroll, J. C.
Year: 1994
Abstract: We conducted a rangewide study of population trends, harvest age and sex structure of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus viranianus). The study provides basis for concern for the future of the species, and creates serious questions about the efficacy of modern deer management principles. In spite of a broad array of regulations and harvest strategies, deer population growth remains unchecked, while there are excessive harvest rates on yearling bucks in most states. Many privately managed herds, on the other hand, are being held within the productive capacity of the habitat and have excellent age and sex structures. In an earlier SEDSG paper, the senior author discussed the maximum sustained yield (MSY) strategy for white-tailed deer. Since that time, interest in MSY management has increased, concommitant with booming deer herds and record harvests. Recently, the authors presented another paper to the SEDSG questioning the MSY management strategy over the long haul; asserting it serves to degrade the hunting experience and image of game management. Further, practitioners of the Quality Deer Management philosophy assert the hunter must make the transition firom "consumer" to "manager," if deer hunting is to remain an acceptable outdoor activity. What is the purpose of scientific game management? Wildlife management students are taught sport hunting is an effective tool to contain the population within the carrying capacity of the range. It also is taught game population growth conforms to a sigmoid, logistic curve which oscillates around carrying capacity. Hunters, it is asserted, can harvest the "surplus" animals, holding the population within the carrying capacity of the range. Yet, deer herds seldom have been shown to conform to this model. Due to time lag effects and the dynamic nature of habitats, deer more often degrade the range; and in the absence of significant habitat disturbance, decline in numbers. The ecosystem also suffers as a consequence. In his book, Game Management, Aldo Leopold wrote "Since game management boiled down to its essentials is the control of game population density, it becomes apparent that an understanding of density limits is essential to successful practice." Wildlife management often has been compared to a three-legged stool; one leg representing population management, another habitat management, and the last people management. Unfortunately, professional wildlife managers devote a great deal of effort towards the ftrst two, but either neglect or mismanage the latter. Too often "people management" is confused with political expediency. Success is not measured in "record harvests" but rather in accomplishing Leopold's stated goal of maintaining the population within the limits of the range to support healthy, productive herds. After our review of the status of herds rangewide, we feel concerns about MSY management are unfounded, since we were not able to find a single state with demonstrable MSY harvests. Recent experiences with declining deer herds in eastern Texas suggest a strong negative public reaction when herds decline; with the brunt of the blame for herd decline placed squarely on the shoulders of professional biologists and state agencies. All of the states examined can be classified to have deer herds in one of three conditions: expanding, peaked or declining. Hence, the east Texas experience may be shared in the near future by other state agencies. The authors urge agency biologists to develop strategies immediately, which are aimed at dampening white-tailed deer population growth. Specific recommendations are made as to how to accomplish this goal.

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