Tuesday, September 01, 2009

MICHIGAN NEWS: Deer Populations Grow, Native Plants Disappear Garlic Mustard Invades Dune Ecosystem

A burgeoning deer population is threatening the delicate ecosystem of a protected, 115-acre dunes area in southwestern Michigan.

The city of Ferrysburg has formed an ad-hoc committee to look into the problem. Councilman Tim Scarpino, a committee member, said he wants all options -- including culling the herd -- left on the table.

"The less that is done now, the more that will have to be done later," he said.

There appear to be more deer than ever roaming the Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve, which is in the neighboring city of Grand Haven but owned by Ferrysburg. The animals are feasting on several rare, native plants and their paths are eroding the landscape of the dunes, Scarpino said.

Deer have been slowly stripping the plants that grow in the dunes' understory, the area of ground beneath its forest canopy, said William Martinus, an environmental consultant who has compiled natural-features inventories for the preserve.

Many plants found there in great numbers during the 1970s were not seen during a recent search, Martinus said. There is little to no regeneration of tree seedlings or saplings, while remaining plants often show few blooms.

"There's almost nothing native in the understory," he told the Grand Haven Tribune for a story published Monday. "We don't even know if the seeds of the plants are there anymore."

The deer eat tree saplings and seedlings that are native to Michigan, including maple, oak, beech, cherry, basswood, cedar and butternut, he said.

The native plants are being replaced by nonnative and often invasive species that the deer won't eat. Species that are moving in include garlic mustard, a plant that stifles tree growth, Martinus said.

Reducing the herd is one way to help native plants return to the preserve, he said.

There are several ways to do shrink deer herds but the most effective can be some combination of methods that include fencing, scent repellents, scare tactics and a controlled hunt, said Nik Kalejs, a wildlife habitat biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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