Managing Population

Posted: November 25th, 2009 under Activities, Mortality, Wildlife.
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Wildlife managers know that in natural systems (few of which still exist) there’s a reasonable balance between predators and prey, so that the prey don’t degrade the resource (plants and water) they need.  In nearly all managed lands in the US,  large predators have been eliminated or reduced to the point where predators cannot effectively control prey population.  Thus the grazers and browsers can grow in numbers to the point where they are on the edge of starvation.

In central Texas, an excess of white-tailed deer and shrinking natural habitat for them has resulted in deer in the cities and increased pressure on the remaining habitats.   Our 80 acres, like most rural property with habitat attractive to deer,  has had too many deer for several years, as our management resulted in a more favorable habitat for them (supplemental water and regrowth of native species for food.)   Deer are a game animal, and thus subject to the state’s hunting laws.   In addition, the shape of our land, and the use of surrounding land, means that there are only a few good places for hunters to shoot from without undue risk to neighbors, their livestock, etc.

For several years we’ve authorized one or two hunters, but on such narrow strip, it’s easy for deer to wander across and be missed.   We joked that the deer knew perfectly well the date that deer season started, and all found caves to hide in during legal hunting hours, coming out only in the dark to eat and drink.  (There are caves around here, but probably not close enough for “our” deer.)

Finally, this year, one of our hunters was able to take a deer–and it was the perfect deer, from my POV as manager–“the big doe,” an older doe we’ve seen and tracked regularly.  She used to produce twin fawns; this year she produced a singleton (probably because of the drought) and it was clear she was aging.   Yet, as the largest doe on the place, she also ate the most.  One down, as I said in another venue.

Our acreage doesn’t support the deer herd alone, of course.   The area we’re in has many deer (leaving aside the hunter harvest, there are deer-car collisons fairly frequently, and deer coming into yards to eat fruit off the trees.)    We look at the tracks, the scat, and the signs of browsing to estimate not just the number of deer using our place, but the amount of food use.    The goal is to maintain the browse pressure at a level that allows the plants to thrive, even in drought times.   At present, I’d like to see at least two more deer taken from the place this year.   It wouldn’t do any harm to take five, because of the number of deer I see on surrounding properties.

Both these hunters are meat hunters, perfectly willing to take deer on the basis of good management, not for a trophy rack.

The next population management task is knocking back the raccoon population before the birds start nesting next spring.    Raccoons aren’t game animals, and as they’re also considered a pest species for managing small properties for diversity, they can be taken year-round.

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