Browse by White-tailed Deer

Adult ginseng plants with bright red berries

White-tailed deer are currently the most abundant ungulate in the eastern deciduous forest. Due to loss of top predators, creation of ideal edge habitat, and management to maximize hunting success, the deer herd is near historic highs across much of its range. The most visible effect of single-purpose management for people is that overpopulation by deer increases collisions with cars, increases car insurance rates, and even more seriously, can cause injury or death of drivers.Deer also browse landscaping, making it impossible to grow some species of plants and requiring vegetable gardeners to vigorously fence their plots. Less visible, but still serious, are the many ways that deer impact natural plant populations, including ginseng. Deer do not particularly prefer ginseng over other plants, but, deer will eat ginseng if they are in the same area.

Scientific research has demonstrated that most of these effects are negative. When deer eat reproductive plants, they destroy the seeds1. With repeated browsing, plants shrink, have lower seed production and eventually die2,3,4. At current deer population densities browsing significantly increases local extinction risk, sometimes beyond even that of poor harvest practices.4 As with management of most of our natural resources, when one element gets out of balance, the rest of the system suffers.

What can you do?

(1) If you are a landowner, encourage ethical deer hunting to reduce population sizes (and encourage your neighbors to do likewise).

(2) Encourage holistic ecosystem management for the good of all biodiversity.

(3) While this one is more controversial, in areas where hunting pressure cannot be raised to sufficient levels, natural controls may need to be introduced. Consider supporting reintroduction of top predators and/or protecting those already in the forest to help control deer populations.

References

1Furedi and McGraw 2004
2Furedi 2004 PhD Dissertation
3Farrington et al. 2008
4McGraw and Furedi 2005 Science paper