Friday, June 16, 2006

MICHIGAN OPINION: Sometimes Aggressive Deer Management Necessary

Bruce Bischoff, Outdoor Columnist for the Record-Eagle (northern LP) writes:

It took exactly one night last week for the deer to discover my dad's tomato seedlings and nip them in the bud.

He didn't have his electric fence up because last year he didn't have any trouble with deer, and because local folklore insisted that there weren't any deer in our area any more after years of liberal doe permits and other DNR mismanagement.

Based on personal observations and conversations with adjoining landowners, I wasn't so sure. And sure enough, after last hunting season, the deer slowly began to come out of the woodwork — not as many, perhaps, as there were 20 years ago, but enough to continue the species.

But another species came out in even more force than whitetails over the winter: hunterrus irateus. Petitions demanding that the DNR do something to build the deer herd back up sprouted in nearly every convenience store. Sportsmen's club meetings got heated. "We want our deer back," was the angry refrain.

It's true that deer populations and harvests have been down in the northern Lower Peninsula for the last couple of years. It's a management campaign that was undertaken for several reasons — to severely cull the herd in the bovine TB-infested areas, to bring the herd more into line with the carrying capacity of the range, and to attempt to modify the extremely lopsided buck-doe ratio of years past. Others might say it was a reaction to political pressure from agricultural interests and auto insurers. Or it might be all of the above.

The DNR's first step to address bovine TB — eliminating baiting — raised a firestorm of protest from hunters and retailers throughout the north, and under heavy political pressure was scaled back to the point of being almost irrelevant.

If there's one thing I've learned from a lifetime of hunting in northern Michigan, it's that pretty much anybody with a blaze orange hat considers himself a game manager of far greater skill and insight than your average professional wildlife biologist. If there's a problem, real or perceived, they have the answer, and they're certain about it. Very certain.

I'll admit I was a bit leery of the changes several years ago, but as they took hold my hunting actually got better. I didn't see as many deer, but I saw more bucks and actually harvested a couple of decent ones. So I hunted patiently and didn't complain.

But apparently a lot of hunters are in a complaining mood now. To address the issue, the DNR is holding meetings with hunters like one scheduled at West Branch this Saturday to outline proposed reductions in doe permits.

Now, I'll admit that doe permits have gotten out of hand at times. Nobody really needs one tag per day.

But I'm not to keen on going back to the days when I would see a dozen or 15 deer every day of the season and never a single set of horns. There were simply so many does available that the bucks didn't need to move around to find them.

There's no question that does need to be managed along with bucks to maintain a healthy herd. The problem is coming to a consensus that everyone can live with.

If it were my choice, the major change I'd make to deer regulations would be the elimination of the second buck license. Hunters who know they only have one shot are going to think twice before taking a small buck. I think a lot of spikes and forks would survive the season and have a chance to grow into decent bucks in the second year.

Or how about a two-tag license, one buck and one doe, where appropriate? Or even a license like a scratch-off lottery ticket, where you might get either a buck tag or a doe tag? Indulge me; I've got a blaze orange hat, too.

For many years I thought of the balance of nature as kind of a finely tuned gyroscope just humming along with no need or intervention or correction from us puny humans. But in recent years I've become convinced that it's a lot more like a teeter-totter, with the weight of species frequently sliding from one end to the other, and we may have to apply a light, judicious hand now and then.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

ARKANSAS NEWS; Community votes in favor of cull

Randy Kemp recently writes in The Sun Times:

It was something over a year ago that we used this space to encourage the Heber Springs city council members to consider a supervised bow hunt inside the city limits to thin the burgeoning deer population. The suggestion came after hearing lots of anecdotal stories - many of them - about the increasing nuisance: sides of cars dented in (dents that look like they should cost $100 that end up costing $2300); flowers and shrubbery eaten; fences bent and damaged...

The broken bones and totaled motorcycle which Yours Truly suffered when an errant buck collided with the motorcycle on Hwy 5 didn’t even figure into it, since that happened on a state highway six or seven miles south of town.

Obviously we at the newspaper weren’t the only ones hearing - or experiencing firsthand - these stories. The idea found favor at the coffee shops, and in water fountain conversations at local businesses, and front porch conversations around town, and equally important, down at city hall.

The mayor and council, recognizing this as a controversial subject, decided to put it to a vote, after discussing it and gathering real data from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and other sources over the period of many months. They wisely took long to debate the merits, remaining sensitive to those citizens who love to watch the local deer slipping through their back yards at dusk and again at dawn, often with spotted fawns in tow during the season for baby deer.

And those citizens, those who will still cringe at the seeming viciousness of a bow hunt this fall, had good representation on the city council. That much was evidenced during the several votes the council took as the idea advanced. Even last Thursday night, three of the eight aldermen voted against the first readings of an ordinance that would prohibit feeding of deer in the city limits. At the final reading, one changed his vote to a yes, but it was still a quarter of the council that voted their own consciences and those of a good number of their constituents with their “No” votes.

But in the end, a public vote among all the citizens of Heber Springs confirmed what we suspected and started kicking around well over a year ago - the deer represent a bigger problem than the quaintness of their presence, and pose a problem that needs to be dealt with.

The council continues to ease into the limited deer hunt with discretion, agreeing to let the Game and Fish Commission run the hunt. Those folks will do a good job overseeing the hunt, both from fairness in awarding permits, certifying safety standards for hunters, and making sure the whole thing is carried out safely.

We know of no one who takes pleasure in injuring or maiming any deer. But the statistics for such supervised bow hunts are fairly impressive. We believed, and continue to trust, that this is a partial answer to a big problem for our growing but still very rural community, where the woods grow right into many of the neighborhoods. We also applaud the city council for its decision Thursday to prohibit their feeding. Hopefully that will send some of them back to the woods and out of local flower beds and gardens and roadways.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MARYLAND NEWS: Battling Lyme in the 'Burbs

The Segal family of North Potomac once considered their expansive backyard, with its swimming pool and wooden playhouse, as a bit of paradise.

But after both Dan and Mimi Segal and three of their four children fell seriously ill due to Lyme disease caused by deer tick bites, it seems more like enemy territory.

‘‘We used to think of our backyard as another room in our house but we don’t go out there much anymore,” said Mimi Segal.

Not since 2000, when the disease known as the ‘‘great masquerader” because it mimics other disorders, began to put the family through a nightmare of symptoms.

‘‘My son Sam is 17 and should be having fun selecting the college of his choice, but he’s had to pick one based on the distance to his Lyme disease doctor,” Mimi Segal said. ‘‘Who knew sitting in your backyard could be a high risk activity?”

That’s why Mimi Segal has talked about the problem at area PTAs and civic associations since last fall. And now she and her husband are kicking off their newly named effort, ‘‘Montgomery County Tick Reduction Program,” in their own neighborhood of 18 years, Potomac Chase Estates.

Working with their HOA, they plan to install deer feeding stations filled with corn throughout the heavily wooded community of 70 homes on about 160 acres.

As deer poke their heads into the boxes to feed, rollers apply a tick-killing pesticide called ‘‘permithrin” to their necks.

‘‘It’s a very low dose, but it goes directly to the tick-infested neck and head and kills adult [tick] females,” she said.

They also want to place ‘‘tick tubes,” biodegradable toilet paper-like tubes filled with permithrin-soaked cotton, around the neighborhood. The tubes attract mice, the disease carriers responsible for infecting ticks with the bacteria.

Statewide reporting of confirmed cases showed a 39 percent increase from 2004 to 2005, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Segals believe their neighborhood is ‘‘hot spot” for the disease due to the herds of deer roaming their wooded streets.

But they agree with Rob Gibson, natural resource manager for Montgomery County, that killing off deer herds is not the answer.

‘‘Deer are probably responsible for spreading the disease into new areas, but once it’s there, the ticks can live on a variety of other hosts,” Gibson said.