White-tailed Deer Management: Hunting as a Preferred Management Tool

Summary

In some areas, deer populations have exceeded population management goals, leading to increased deer-related damages in the amount of $2 billion annually. Recently, popularized alternatives in population control, such as sterilization and contraception, are costly and to date have not been proven effective for managing free ranging populations. Hunting continues to be the most effective, cost efficient and socially acceptable method of population control. As such, hunting should be codified as the preferred wildlife management tool.

Introduction

Through effective conservation efforts (championed by sportsmen and women and funded through the American System of Conservation Funding), species once in decline, such as the white-tailed deer, have been able to recover to burgeoning populations. Unfortunately, some of these recovery efforts have led to populations in specific areas that are now exceeding the carrying capacity of some habitats. For example, populations of white–tailed deer have boomed nationwide, increasing from 500,000 in the early 1900s to potentially exceeding 30 million today. In specific areas, the large populations of deer have been detrimental to other species of flora and fauna. Many of these occurrences of unsustainably high wildlife populations (whether native or introduced) develop in areas where hunting has historically been heavily restricted, or banned entirely – such as in parks and suburban or exurban communities. Overpopulation of species in more residential regions causes human/wildlife conflicts as people come in contact with wildlife. For instance, reports estimated 1.25 million deer collisions in the United States from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 and on average cost $4,123 per incident (over $5.15 billion in total). Other damage estimates (2011), include more than $600 million in agricultural crop damage and $1.6 billion in damage to the timber industry, as well as more than $500 thousand in damage to residential households (i.e., landscape plantings). While sterilization and contraception have recently been discussed as potential methods of curbing the white-tailed population, hunting remains the most effective option.


History

Alternative methods for population control, such as sterilization and contraception, have been argued for as possible management tools in urban/suburban areas. However, products currently being reviewed are experimental, costly, require multiple applications, and are not considered to be effective on free ranging populations. Cornell University recently conducted an experimental sterilization project to combat exploding deer populations in the area. The method used was tubal ligation, a form of sterilization which blocks fallopian tubes and prevents egg cells from reaching the uterus. The method proved to be effective, but was extremely expensive and time consuming. In fact, the cost to sterilize each deer was a staggering $1,200. 77 deer were sterilized, meaning the study in total cost the university over $92,000. Spending this much money on deer management methods in the form of contraception/sterilization is unjustifiable, especially because hunting has proven to be a more effective and cost efficient method. Hunting generates revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies through the American System of Conservation Funding, as well as the economy as a whole, whereas other management methods like contraception and sterilization add little to no value to the economy and in fact regularly require tax payer dollars to fund the programs.

Historically, hunting has been the most efficient, cost effective and socially acceptable method of population control. Despite the efficacy of hunting as a management tool, it faces two serious challenges. The first is that relying on hunting as a primary wildlife management tool is reliant on hunter participation. The two most important factors associated with hunters’ satisfaction concern access and opportunity. Encouraging the use of hunting as a first priority wildlife management tool will increase both of these key factors which determine satisfaction. The second challenge is overbearing regulations and local ordinances in urban/suburban communities. The application of regulated hunting programs in urban/suburban communities is limited by (1) real or perceived safety concerns, (2) conflicting social attitudes and perceptions about wildlife, and (3) localized ordinances on firearm-discharge and restrictions on hunting. Furthermore, species populations on corporate or government properties often become overabundant because of liability or public-relations issues. If these challenges are diminished, hunters would be encouraged to continue to participate and invite new hunters to join them.

Points of Interest

  • Hunting is still the most effective method to regulate deer populations.
  • Hunting is cost effective and generates critical funding for state fish and wildlife agencies through the American System of Conservation Funding.
  • Regulated hunting, even in suburban and urban areas is a safe practice, which has proven to have ecological, social, and fiscal benefits.
  • The use of archery equipment is a viable method for population control in areas with high human density and is generally supported by hunters and homeowners alike.

Language

Policy formulation dealing with hunting as a preferred management tool should consider the following factors:

  • Hunting has a huge economic impact on the United States economy each year. In fact, hunting contributed more than $35 billion from the support of 11.5 million hunters aged 16 or older in 2018.
  • 9.2 million of the 11.5 million total hunters aged 16 or older in 2016 actively hunted big game such as deer.
  • Additionally, hunting contributes critical conservation dollars to state fish and wildlife agencies, and thus positively impacts a variety of other wildlife, access, and habitat projects throughout the nation.
  • Opening up new areas to hunting will increase satisfaction with the sport through providing additional access and opportunity and will encourage hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation (see issue brief).
  • In areas of high human densities, archery hunting should be considered a viable management tool because alternative management techniques, unless absolutely necessary, will only serve to bolster anti-hunting organizations’ claims that hunting should be severely restricted, if not eliminated.
  • A type of preemption law is already in place in South Carolina, where localities must have the approval of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources before implementing any contraception program.

Moving Forward

Hunting should be designated as the preferred wildlife management tool for the state, as state agencies already consider it to be the most effective method of regulating populations of game species. Additionally hunting generates critical conservation funding through the American System of Conservation Funding and has a strong, positive impact on rural economies. Legislators should strongly support hunting as the preferred management tool for their state.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact Brent Miller at bmiller@congressionalsportsmen.org.

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