Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NEW YORK NEWS: Deer Pose Problems at Binghamton University

Most people on campus have seen them at least once. They can be seen by M-Lot, in the Nature Preserve — anywhere except the interior of the Brain, the main road around the campus. They collect at all hours of the night, wandering aimlessly around campus, stumbling onto roads without care for cars. No, this group is not made up of drunk girls coming back from State Street, or pledges from a fraternity.

This group is taking over campus and wreaking havoc on its environment.

They are deer.

The deer that populate Binghamton University’s campus have made themselves at home, and the campus has proven to be a very good home indeed, given their numbers.

“The main reason is a lack of predators, natural or human,” said Dylan Horvath, the steward of the Nature Preserve. “Deer are very adaptable and have been dealing with the lack of natural food.”

This lack of predators has created a haven for deer.

“The deer have figured out that they are not hunted the closer they are to human habitation,” Horvath said. “So we see more of them coming into our natural areas and onto campus.”

Natural predators, he said, can no longer control the deer population — the best means of natural control, wolves and coyotes, were hunted out a century ago.

“Hunting by people is the only substitute that we have for keeping deer populations down,” he said.

Every ecosystem has a carrying capacity, or a maximum number at which a population can be sustained, for its inhabitants. According to Horvath, the carrying capacity of the natural areas has been exceeded.

The exact number of deer is hard to determine, but estimates have been made.

“We’ve counted up to 25 to 30 deer in College-in-the-Woods, which should only have about three naturally,” Horvath said. “There is probably a similar number in the actual Nature Preserve, but they are harder to count.”

Horvath noted that it is hard to tell if the CIW deer move back and forth between the residential community and the Preseve.

“Conservatively, there are probably 45 deer overall,” Horvath said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was well over 50. During hunting season we get an influx of neighboring deer.”

While the idea of an army of deer living in the Nature Preserve may seem funny, it actually has an adverse effect on the environment.

“The deer have eaten probably 99 percent of our wildflowers and have almost stopped forest regeneration,” Horvath said.

This issue of regeneration is significant because of its impact on other species.

There is also the safety issue of students in their cars. Lt. Madeline Bay, of Binghamton’s New York State University Police, explained that even with the large number of deer on campus, there are only three or four accidents a year — a number which has remained steady over time.

“It’s one of those things where people have to be alert,” Bay said. “As long as people go slow and obey the speed limits there is usually no problem.”

Julian Shepherd, Ph. D, associate professor of biological sciences and chair of the Committee on the University Environment, said he also hasn’t received many complaints relating to the deer.

“There is no plan,” Shepherd said. “We talk about options sometimes but think that it would be controversial.”

Any answer to the deer issue would be complicated.

“There are two solutions,” Horvath said. “Change the deer behavior or reduce their population.”

Hunting would reduce the deer populations, but carries a lot of concerns and issues, Horvath explained, including safety, public support and permits.

“Hunting is a very remote possibility for now,” Horvath added. “The chances of hunting being allowed anytime soon are low.”

Horvath said some students had tried to set up a deer exclusion fence in CIW and the Nature Preserve to see if there was regrowth, but complications like people littering the area with beer cans have also affected regrowth.

Problems with solutions have made people reluctant to implement measures.

“Frankly, a lot of us would like to see the deer populations decrease,” Shepherd, in regard to the issues, said. “But we don’t want to do it.”

Horvath believes it is a tough situation, because the conditions that have made a deer problem are mostly caused by humans, and the animals have no choice but to adapt.

“On the one hand the deer are wonderful ‘ambassadors’ of nature and people love seeing them,” he said in an e-mail. “On the other hand, ecologically, and to some extent safety-wise, they are a problem.”

All this, Horvath says, makes for an interesting and touchy problem, especially with the deer’s impact on the forest itself.

“Unfortunately, our forests don’t have the luxury of waiting for nature to take its course, but we may have to,” he said.

Source: http://bupipedream.com/new/index.php/articles/view/7209

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