Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

deer in the parks and around the city

I went for a walk today in a park that i have not previously visited. I parked my car in one of the picnic area parking lots and picked up a trail. As I headed out into the brisk December air, I noticed that the woods looked rather barren. My first thought was that it was the middle of winter, and there had not been enough snow to make anything look pretty. Then I took a second look and realized there was little understory vegetation. As I kept walking, there were 2 deer drinking from a nearby stream, who ran as fast as they could upon my approach.

The impact of deer on woodland habitats, especially ones with lots of edge and fragmentation, is well known. However, it is poorly understood how to prevent and decrease the impact of deer herbivory. Often the solution is to eradicate deer through culling, something which often creates a community uproar and thousands of dollars of tax money spent. In the end, the deer come back after a short lag time for recovery.

Something that is grossly overlooked, however, is the fact that deer are everywhere not only because of the loss of large predators, but more importantly, because we have artificially created more habitat for them! Via habitat fragmentation and the creation of the urban-wild interface (edge habitat), the park I was walking through was ecologcally in turmoil, as many parks in Pittsburgh, PA are.

A better solution to deer culling and other short term “solutions” is better management of the landscape as a whole. While this may be incredibly difficult and complex in application, it is our only hope of saving remaining intact woods from becoming barren and cleared of understory diversity.

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