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We Need More Deer Hunting

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Forget the Bambi thing–there are too many deer. Effectively, in 2023, all animals in the United States are managed. If you create a scenario where you strip away the apex predators–wolves in this case–then you are going to see enormous spikes in grazing animals well beyond what the ecosystem can sustain. So seeing deer all the time is not really the sign of a healthy ecosystem. It’s a sign of overpopulation. While I personally don’t hunt and generally hate guns, I cannot argue in good faith against an expansion of deer hunting. Dana Milbank agrees:

“The entire food web is unraveling,” Bernd Blossey, a professor of natural resources at Cornell University, tells me. “I call deer ‘ecological bullies,’” he adds — Bambi, a bully! — “taking house and home and the ability to live away from other organisms, whether they’re birds, other mammals, insects or plants.”

The Nature Conservancy several years ago argued that deer might be “a bigger threat to Eastern forests than climate change.” And things have only worsened. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist and wildlife ecologist at the University of Delaware, tells me that white-tailed deer in the East are now “about 14 times over the carrying capacity,” meaning the ability of the ecosystem to sustain the species.

In the part of the Virginia Piedmont where I have a home, there are between 40 and 50 deer per square mile — compared to only 27 people per square mile. To get things back into ecological balance, Blossey estimates, we would need to get the deer population down below 10 per square mile.

I became aware of the great white-tailed menace when researching the threat that invasive plant species pose to the survival of our forests. Deer gobble up native flora so fast that the plants are disappearing, leaving a vacuum for invasive species (that deer don’t enjoy) to fill.

Walk into the forest here, past the edge between field and woods where invasive vines now dominate, and you will find a manicured scene: all mature trees and no understory — none of the seedlings, saplings, flowers and shrubs that once covered the forest floor. The insatiable deer have eaten it all. They eat 3 percent to 5 percent of their body weight in leafy greens every day, Virginia state wildlife biologist David Kocka tells me.

This is a very real problem. And the answer is more hunting.

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