By Land Stewardship Intern Brooke Mellema
It seems weird for a vegetarian to be writing a post on hunting. When I told my boyfriend I was writing this, he looked at me like I had sprouted a second head. I get it. So why would a vegetarian be writing such a thing? Why would I want to help a place recruit people to harm animals? Well, in an indirect way, hunting helps not only animals, but the ecosystem in it’s entirety. Let me explain.
White-tailed deer are native to Michigan, but over the last six decades their population has grown to levels that are much higher than any prior period. In the Grand Rapids area, there is no natural predation for deer. At Blandford, although it covers 143 -acres, deer are running out of space. In the past, Professor Keys and his students from Cornerstone University have led a study (browse, camera and scat/pellet count) on the deer population at Blandford. They are continuing the study this year. What they found was a population of 25 to 35 deer and a recommendation that there be only 5. Deer with no natural population control are very destructive to their fellow creatures including birds and our biologically rich woody areas at Blandford.
Why are they such a problem? Deer prefer some herbaceous plants over others, and therefore leave only deer-resistance plants for the other wildlife. These changes in vegetation have been shown to affect birds. In heavily browsed areas, the shrub layer is virtually absent or is populated almost entirely by deer resistant species. Animals that nest or forage in the shrub layer are not, in some cases, able to adapt to such dramatic changes in forest structure and must find suitable habitat elsewhere or persist at low numbers (The Nature Conservancy). Deer negatively affect themselves as well. Leaving deer-resistant plants to multiply, and nothing else, leaves them with no food, can cause erosion and starts making them nuisances to our neighbors by nibbling on their gardens and causing accidents by being in the way of cars.
Don’t get me wrong. I love deer. I think they are neat little creatures and I always have a little pang in my heart when opening day comes around, so I understand when people might initially be opposed to hunting at Blandford. However, I know managing white-tailed deer populations through hunting is an important step in reducing deer damage and protecting the biodiversity of Blandford. Deer populations have grown well beyond the ability of our natural communities to withstand their effects. For this reason, we employ skilled bow hunting as a tool to reduce populations to reduce the damage deer cause, allowing natural communities to recover their full vigor and diversity (The Nature Conservancy).
Source: If you would like to read a little more in depth at deer populations in Michigan, I got most of my information from:
“All Conservancy preserves in Michigan are Threatened in Some Way by Deer.” The Nature Conservancy. N.p., 24 July 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/michigan/explore/deer-hunting-in-michigan.xml>.
“Deer Can Be Too Many, Too Few, or Just Enough for Healthy Forest.” US FOREST SERVICE NORTHERN RESEARCH STATION. US Forest Service, 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <http://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/news/review/review-vol16.pdf>.