|Bambi becomes a nuisance in New Jersey |
By LANCE GAY
Scripps Howard News Service
What happens when Bambi goes bad?
Take a look at New Jersey, which is dealing with such a problem with deer overpopulation that the state's Audubon Society says it's time to increase deer hunting and bring in sharpshooters to restore healthy forest undergrowths that can support birds.
Eric Stiles, the group's New Jersey vice president for conservation, said his group spent a year studying alternatives and convened conferences with experts before recommending that the state increase deer hunting. Sharpshooters may be needed in built-up suburbs, the group says
Stiles said white-tailed deer have become so prolific that there are no dogwoods left on Dogwood Trail on the Audubon's 270-acre preserve in Bernardsville, N.J., no native shrubs, even saplings are eaten.
A 1999 survey by the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife found the population density of deer in the state was as high as 78 deer per square kilometer, compared with the 2 to 4 deer per square kilometer before settlers made the state their home.
With a lack of natural predators, high birthrates, increased longevity and an abundance of food from the sculptured gardens of suburbia, an Audubon Society survey concluded that an expanding state deer population is changing the state's forests by bringing plants the deer eat to the edge of extinction.
The National Audubon Society, which is not affiliated with the New Jersey group, said it agreed that deer overcrowding is so severe in several states that lawmakers need to change policies and allow for increased hunting.
"I wrote an editorial this last November that said 'if you love birds, shoot deer,' " said Kristen Berry of the National Audubon Society.
He said deer herds are remarkably destructive on the forest undergrowth that birds feed on and said there are significant deer overpopulations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, southern Indiana and Illinois. Not only do the deer eat the forest undergrowth that birds eat and use for nesting, but the plants the deer favor are replaced by invasive species that aren't as healthful to the bird population.
Over-hunting brought deer herds to the point of extinction along much of the East Coast in the 19th century, and many states established wildlife agencies to import deer from other states and bring back the populations.
The New Jersey Audubon Society said alternative methods for controlling the deer population are too expensive or haven't worked. The Audubon Society said it cost $250,000 to build a deer-proof fence around a 175-acre farm it helped turn into a bird sanctuary, and there are recurring additional costs to patrol the fence to see that it remains secure.
Contraception costs from $340 to $1,000 per deer and isn't effective because the gestational cycles of wild animals cannot be determined exactly. Trapping and relocation costs from $400 to more than $2,900 for each deer and causes the animals such stress that half die after being relocated.
"Unless the legislature comes up with the money, there's only one solution that doesn't cost one dime," said Stiles.
Erin Phalon, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, said the state government, which wants to expand deer hunting in the state, welcomed the Audubon study. Farmers have long complained about the loss of their crops to deer.
John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, said more scientific studies are needed before endorsing increased deer hunting. The Humane Society has been a leading national organization opposing hunting.
"We do understand their concerns," Hadidian said. "There's just not enough science to know for sure."
(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com)