The explosion in white-tailed deer throughout the Northeast hasn’t been good for forests because those voracious so-and-so’s eat all the tree seedlings, altering the makeup of the woods (when they’re not eating all your hostas). Or so I’ve always heard.
New research indicates that may not be true – it says fire suppression and other land management practices by humans are the real drivers of change. A report from the U.S. Forest Service (read it here) says:
Rather than focusing on seedling survival, Brice and Marc used stocking – which measures how many trees are in an area, the diameter of trees, and the space a tree uses – to help assess impacts of browsing by white-tail deer on forest structure.
Using tree survey data, they compared forest stocking data to deer population densities from over 2000 counties throughout the eastern U.S. Additionally, using current tree surveys and historical records they examined trends in tree species preferred by deer.
Researchers found white-tail deer have not reduced tree densities at landscape scales across the Eastern U.S. In fact, they propose other management influences and fire exclusion have had bigger impacts.
Nonetheless, I welcome all the deer hunters I can find onto my property. The local herd needs thinning.