Who doesn’t love nature? The fresh air blowing through the trees, the sweet songs of birds and frogs, and the absolute feeling of being free. The chance to see a female deer and its fawn excite even the most urbanized kid and seeing a real life equivalents of Chip and Dale chasing each other would make anyone laugh. Those who have worked with or have been in nature know that when nature is in balance, things work out beautifully for both man and nature.
But nature is not entirely balanced these days.
Despite the pristine appearance of our natural areas, there is a problem happening within. Deer and elk have been visiting the riparian areas (where land and water meet) of streams, rivers, and lakes more often than they had before and have been consuming more than their fair share of sapling trees. Why is this all bad? Well, with the deer and elk visiting the riparian areas more often, they are consuming the sodium-rich plants that are essential to control soil erosion. Studies have shown that with this combination of less plant life and more soil erosion, the deer’s and elk’s actions are destroying habitats for fish and amphibians by making the waters murky with sediment. These sediments negatively affect farms as well . This also has negative effects on local bird populations by modifying their breeding patterns . And what about the lack of sapling trees? With the lack of sapling trees, there are less and less trees to replace the older trees when they die of age, disease, parasites, or wildfires.
Why has this happened? Three words: Lack of predators.
While it no secret that predators are important in controlling the population size of prey species, they are also important for other components of the ecosystem as well. Along with eating their prey, they also influence their prey’s behavior. Studies in Yellowstone have shown that following the reintroduction of the wolves, local elk population’s modified their behavior whereby they visit the riparian areas less often [1, 10] and browse less on sapling trees . This is likely because sources of water are a popular place for predators to hunt and their presence has kept the prey moving often, not staying in one location for an extended period of time.
So it seems that predators are a sort of silver bullet to this issue. But there is a problem with using predators to control prey.
A good number of places that suffer these sorts of habitat disturbances as in areas where there is not enough room to support large predators or they are too close to urbanized areas. There is no doubt that no one would want large predators reintroduced right in their back yards, especially if their children might become targets for the would-be predators.
So if not large predators, what is the alternative?
I would propose incorporating human hunters into areas that are close to urban areas or are too small to support large predators but suffering with riparian area destruction due to browsing by local wildlife. Human hunters not only control prey populations, but also manipulate their behavior in a similar way as larger predators. There have been studies that have shown that human hunting can be an alternative to a predator stimuli . Human hunting has influenced deer behavior enough to give deer appropriate flight responses , influenced their browsing behavior to allow tree regeneration , and even made them roam at greater distances . I would propose that we shall allow hunters to hunt at specific locations (e.g. heavily-used riparian areas and areas where tree saplings are being over-browsed) to stimulate these sorts of fear responses and allow the ecosystem to recover while also allowing them to be safe in other areas that are in need of more deer activity.
This is a solution that I believe would help the environment and it would definitely get some support from the hunting community. But I fear that it won’t get a great deal of support.
We’ve all grown up with Disney’s Bambi and with the negative public perception and opinion of hunting . With this and animal rights groups like PETA obviously against it, it would be either really hard or near impossible to have this plan gain traction. How could we get over this obstacle? How would you get people to properly understand that this is a conservation movement? Through proper education. Hopefully, through proper education, we can teach people that this sort of hunting movement is vitally important for the wildlife, their habitats, and their ecosystem. Also, we may need to emphasize that human hunting of wildlife is safer in those areas than reintroducing large predators. For this is safer for the people and the animals.
Some would say that hunting is not good for nature, but I say to that as Aldo Leopold once said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
- Beschta, Robert L., and William J. Ripple. “The role of large predators in maintaining riparian plant communities and river morphology.” Geomorphology 157 (2012): 88-98.
- Côté, Steeve D., et al. “Ecological impacts of deer overabundance.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics (2004): 113-147.
- Cooper, J. R., et al. “Riparian areas as filters for agricultural sediment.” Soil Science Society of America Journal 51.2 (1987): 416-420.
- Decker, Daniel J., and Tommy L. Brown. “How Animal Rightists View the” Wildlife Management: Hunting System”.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1987): 599-602.
- Frid, Alejandro, and Lawrence M. Dill. “Human-caused disturbance stimuli as a form of predation risk.” Conservation Ecology 6.1 (2002): 11.
- Kauffman, J. Boone, and William C. Krueger. “Livestock impacts on riparian ecosystems and streamside management implications… a review.” Journal of range management (1984): 430-438.
- Leopold, Aldo. 1966. A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays On Conservation from Round River. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 269 p
- Martin, Jean-Louis, and Christophe Baltzinger. “Interaction among deer browsing, hunting, and tree regeneration.” Canadian Journal of Forest Research 32.7 (2002): 1254-1264.
- Ripple, William J., and Robert L. Beschta. “Restoring Yellowstone’s aspen with wolves.” Biological Conservation 138.3 (2007): 514-519.
- Ripple, William J., and Robert L. Beschta. “Wolves and the ecology of fear: can predation risk structure ecosystems?.” BioScience 54.8 (2004): 755-766.
- Root, Brian G., Erik K. Fritzell, and Norbert F. Giessman. “Effects of intensive hunting on white-tailed deer movement.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1988): 145-151.
- Stankowich, Theodore. “Ungulate flight responses to human disturbance: a review and meta-analysis.” Biological Conservation 141.9 (2008): 2159-2173.
- Stromayer, Karl AK, and Robert J. Warren. “Are overabundant deer herds in the eastern United States creating alternate stable states in forest plant communities?.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1997): 227-234.