Hunting and conservation sometimes work together.  This video explains how hunters manage deer populations when many of their natural predators are unavailable. (Courtesy: The Southern Company)




Steve: Wasn’t there a time when the animals managed themselves? Well, yes, there was, but man was not here. We better be conscious of that, because we don't have another planet we can go to and take these animals with us and start over. We must manage our environment. 

Jan:  If we didn’t manage the population of the wildlife, then it would manage itself by the death of the animals by not having enough food, shelter.

Steve:  We’re eating up the habitat at a very alarming rate. Two hundred thousand acres a year for my home state of Georgia is a very alarming rate. And it’s not gonna take many generations until you reach a level to where that’s gone.

Jan: There is just not that land for them to roam on anymore without putting themselves in extreme danger and not just to themselves, but danger to human beings, too, by being places that they shouldn’t be.

Brian: Across most of the southeast, deer populations range from 40 per square mile up to over 100 deer per square mile, and that’s a problem. We’re at a point now where we need to do some things to reduce those populations and certainly hunting plays a key role in that process.

Steve: The only two natural predators in America for the whitetail deer are the mountain lion and the wolf. Man has become that predator. If man stops hunting, we are in trouble. And it wouldn’t take but just a matter of two to five years to realize that. 

Jan:  The natural mortality rate is only gonna take a small percentage and there comes a point that there’s got to be something to put that in checks and balances.

Steve:  We can right now go into some areas in the Ssouth and you can walk into the forest where the browse line for the deer is up 7½ feet, there’s nothing green below 7½ feet, because you have an overpopulation of deer. Once the deer destroys that habitat, then he starves to death. 

Brian:  Moreso, they would be reduced in their quality of life. Even those that didn’t die of starvation and disease would be very low quality, body weights would be very low, parasite burdens or loads would be very high. We would have a tremendous amount of damage done to our forest ecosystem, the plant diversity that would be affected. This is a good example of what overabundant deer herds can do. The entire area is pretty well denuded of any quality forage. And these are even deer that are provided all they can eat on a daily basis, high quality, you know, feed for them, and yet still they don't allow anything to grow because that’s a natural browsing habitat tendency for them to try to browse anyway.

Narrator:  In the late 1800s, there were no hunting laws or seasons. Conservationists became alarmed at the decline of animals who were being hunted to near extinction. 

Steve:  Theodore Roosevelt, Governor of New York in 1887, brought the hunter and the conservationists together and said, “Folks, I don't know of any two more groups more concerned about wildlife than you two are, and if we don't do something to conserve our wildlife,” -- at that time there was no laws protecting wildlife. 1907, the first law was passed in New York where you could only harvest one deer. Thus, the population started to come back. And in 1937, somebody said, “How are we gonna pay for it?” And that’s where the hunter came in. And it was the hunter, the first true conservationist, that said, “We’ll buy a license to do what we do and you can take a portion of that money and set it aside for future wildlife management.” On the average right now, it’s three million dollars a day that hunter’s putting towards conservation in America.

Jan:  As population has increased of the animals and of human beings, that’s when wildlife divisions of the states, different agencies had to step in and say, “Okay, now we’re starting to see a problem. We’ve got to start looking at where can we do a balance here? And how can we use hunters and fisherman as a tool?” And, really, I feel that I am a useful tool in the balance of nature.

Steve:  Certainly the whitetail deer, certainly the black bear, they were headed for extinction. The beaver go back 100 years. We think we had 30 to 40 million. They were headed in 1940 for extinction. Today, we’re estimating that the population 25 to 30 million. The wood duck in 1920 was almost extinct. Today, there are 6½ million, one of the most populated flying ducks in the southeast. And thanks to the hunter and thanks to conservation, those species were saved. We hunt today, worldwide, to hold down populations in accordance to how much land do we have and can that habitat support that species?

Brian:  Hunters across the southeast harvest several hundred thousand deer per year, for themselves, obviously, but also for the community. ‘Cause if those deer weren’t harvested, the chances that someone could hit them with their vehicle, that they would also be damaging someone’s crops or ornamental plants, would even be higher than it is today. So they play a key role in keeping our deer populations in the absence of predators, large predators, which use to be the controlling factor, we as a society need to step in and take over that role of a predator, but we can do it more educated, more responsibly, by harvesting the right animals, the right number, by sex and age, according to a plan. Well, the deer themselves are gonna have a hard time and we as humans are gonna be negatively impacted on many levels. But also I think we owe it to deer to manage them in a healthy way and to also have healthy forests and all of those things can be achieved through sound wildlife management.


Learn more about the role of hunting and balancing populations of animals in this episode of the Natural South.