Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Connecting the Dots and Deer

I re-read my previous post and realized that it was extremely choppy.  I had too much to say in one post and just kept cutting it down until it was horrible,  Sorry.

When writing about Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds, my point is that many people see things in isolation and don't connect all of the events preceding it to the result.  The fact that my neighborhood has an over population of deer is connected to the entire history of Europe and the Americas.  The land under my house was once a farm, it can be seen today in the exact way the soil in the yard had eroded, it can also be seen in the soil profile when I dig a hole for a tree.  The top layers of soil have been mixed, something that I  would not see if I were to dig a hole on the side of the ravine, because no sane person would plow the steep angles of that hill without terracing.


It is likely that my yard once was loaded with tobacco plants, the county flag has a tobacco leaf on it.  I know of only one tobacco farm left in the area. Most of the tobacco land in the area has either been converted to corn and sorghum, pasture, woods or giganti-homes (due to a Federal buyout of tobacco farms on which I am having difficulty locating information on the internet--I've met many people locally who tell the story of how an area used to be a huge farm, but the farmer took the Federal money offered and headed for a less expensive place to retire.  Some how the land gets sold to developers, who probably lobbied for the bill to fund the buyout.). Around here there is talk of houses being the best cash crop for farmers to raise.  There are a few exceptions  some local farms are now agricultural trusts and will remain farmland.


My neighborhood has been shaped by health policy and American smoking trends, agricultural price supports  that ended in 2005 and more. During the time period when this area was farmed from the late 1600's to late 20th century, it is unlikely that there were many deer after the first few years due to the forest being converted to fields, removing the edge habitat for the deer and over-hunting by the residents.  I doubt the people who built the 1920's era house next door ever saw deer in their yard.


There certainly is no lack of deer now, every day last fall I would see a minimum of four deer together in the yard at some point in the day. They weren't always the same deer either, their sizes, shapes, coloring, and antlers varied.  Now, I see a couple in the area every few days.  


I know that at least two neighbors have been feeding the deer, one as entertainment (much like I feed the birds) and the other has a deer stand (a hunting chair mounted in a tree with a deer decoy and food items to lure deer into the area below--as if he really needs to lure them. (I understand that there are frequent ER visits made by adult males in the area due to "falling out of trees"  Also, my daughter is not allowed in the woods in December or January because of hunting season gunfire.). I doubt either neighbor gardens or has a dog who goes into a frenzy over the sight of deer.


Going back further in time,  before European style farming, it is likely that there were some deer in the area.  Nearby there is a site that was used for tool and weapon making with artifacts that are up to 4000 years old,  The people making those weapons probably saw deer regularly, but it is unlikely that they found four deer hanging around their camp every time they returned.  The people, wolves and cougars would have kept the population in check.


Today, it seems the only things that keep the deer population in check are Fords, Toyotas and Mecedes (especially white SUV's, a favorite of the giganti-home dwellers).  The deer population also helps provide business for many medical facilities and body shops...and the omnipresent vultures.  (The only vultures I remember in my childhood were the ones that showed up in the Road Runner cartoons, but that's another story.)


The point of all of this is that the ecosystem is out of whack.  We've created a situation where the niche of predator has been removed from the food web and unless we think of a solution the predators that we can't remove from the food web, viruses and bacteria, will eventually take their toll.  In the meantime, we have budgeted money for putting circles of fencing around each of our newly planted trees to prevent defoliation by hungry deer, which they did to one of the apple trees last year.  It survived this time, but two years in a row for a new tree would be too much.


The book provides some ideas, not all of them palatable to everyone on how to resolve this issue, but, venison stew may be back on the Eastern American table for the first time in nearly three hundred years.

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