by Chuck Augello
"There are too many deer in New Jersey." Over the
past ten years, this statement has become the last, and sometimes
only, word about the whitetail deer population in the Garden State.
Try to find a newspaper article about deer that doesn't refer to
the "deer problem" or describe deer numbers as "out
Since most reporters and editors get their information
from the Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife (DFGW), this is
not surprising. The Division's goal-the promotion of sport hunting-is
strengthened by public perception that there are too many deer
causing too many problems. As long as hunters are viewed as the
only way to control the "multitudes" of deer, the average
non-hunter will overlook his or her natural repugnance toward hunters
and their blood sport. But the question remains: Are there really
too many deer in New Jersey?
Aim for severing the economic links
between lethal weapons and wildlife management agencies. Excise
taxes on this killer pays "conservation" agencies
to turn wildlife that belongs to YOU by law into victims of
those who enjoy killing.
When discussing deer populations, biologists use two terms:
biological carrying capacity and cultural carrying capacity. The
difference is significant.
Biological carrying capacity refers to the number of deer that
a given area can support. Once this capacity is exceeded, meaning
there is no longer enough food and shelter for the deer living
there, the deer herd begins to reduce itself through dispersal,
death, and a decrease in the reproductive rate. This is one way
that deer populations self-regulate. Since the health of the deer
herd is the major indicator of whether or not biological carrying
capacity has been exceeded, a healthy deer herd is evidence that
the population is still in balance with the carrying capacity of
In a 1997 report by the DFGW, A Study of The New Jersey
Deer Herd, deer populations are assigned four classifications: "Substantially
Above Standard," "Above Standard," "Standard," and "Below
Standard." These designations refer to the health of the
deer as measured by the average number of antler points and the
average weight of field-dressed deer. If biological carrying
capacity is being exceeded, those areas with the highest deer
densities will show deer herds in Below Standard condition. However,
a review of the data shows just the opposite.
For this article, I examined 29 deer management zones (DMZ)
each with deer densities over 25 deer per square mile. Since 20
deer per square mile is considered optimal by the DFGW, the DMZ's
chosen must all be considered as having excessive deer herds. Yet
the deer in these areas are not in poor condition. Eighteen of
the twenty-nine DMZ's had deer populations rated Substantially
Above Standard and Above Standard. Only seven of the twenty-nine
had populations listed as Below Standard. Interestingly, the DMZ's
with the highest densities, (84 and 75 deer per square mile), were
each rated as having deer populations Substantially Above Standard.
This is clear evidence that biological carrying capacity has not
been exceeded. Much of the land in New Jersey can support high
deer densities as evidenced by the health of the deer themselves.
Which brings us to cultural carrying capacity, commonly defined
as the number of deer within a given area that the human population
will tolerate. It is here that the focus moves from science to
politics and public relations. Most people, by nature, willingly
accept the word of the so-called experts, in this case the DFGW.
Since the DFGW and its messengers in the media are constantly telling
the public that there are too many deer, it is not surprising that
most New Jersey residents accept this point of view. The DFGW even
has the numbers to prove it. Or do they? A close reading of the
Division's own studies shows that the public is being deceived
about the number of deer per square mile in New Jersey.
The deception occurs in the definition of deer range. For example,
when the Division reports that there are thirty deer per square
mile, this doesn't mean per square mile of land; the Division is
referring only to the amount of deer per square mile of "deer
range." According to the Division, deer range includes "undeveloped
lands, such as forests, farmlands, and other undeveloped upland
areas. Developed areas, salt marsh, and open water are not included
in range estimates."
Since "developed areas" could mean anything from
downtown Newark to the swank suburbs of Morris and Somerset counties,
I sought clarification from Susan Predl, Senior Wildlife Biologist
with the DFGW. In a letter to the author, Ms. Predl confirmed that
deer range estimates represent the minimum amount of habitat available.
Large corporate campuses, many of which include woodlands and other
undeveloped tracts, would not be considered as deer range. Nor
would suburban housing developments or suburban parks, despite
the fact that deer can and do incorporate such areas as part of
their range. For several years I lived near a beautiful park in
Basking Ridge. Adjacent to this park was the Lyons V.A. Hospital,
which was surrounded by many acres of open and wooded land. Although
deer lived in this area, the area itself is not considered deer
range. No wonder the ratio of deer per square mile is always so
high. Thousands of acres of suitable habitat in every county in
New Jersey are never included in the definition of deer range.
Consider the effect of this on the average citizen. The reported
number of deer per square mile is always greater than the reality.
These higher numbers reinforce the notion that there are too many
deer. Imagine if a school board tried to justify a school expansion
by telling voters that there are forty students per classroom-while
five empty rooms are not counted as part of the school. For the
DFGW to give an honest report of the number of deer per square
mile, it must expand its definition of deer range to include all
areas where deer can live successfully. By not reporting the numbers
accurately, the Division is giving the impression that there are
more deer than there actually are, which effects public perception
about the need for hunting.
An honest approach to deer management would include people
management-teaching tolerance and acceptance of whitetail deer.
As New Jersey continues to overdevelop, this focus is desperately
needed. Unfortunately, the DFGW continues its promotion of sport
hunting as the only option in deer management. If deer densities
were reported accurately, the perception that there are too many
deer might come into question, and so would the need for many of
the "community-based hunts" held each year.
PUT REFUGE BACK INTO THE WORD REFUGE
OR CHANGE THE NAME
Webster must be rolling over in his grave. According to his
dictionary, a "refuge" is a shelter or protection from
danger or distress; a safety zone.
In a press release from the Department of Interior, it says
that National Wildlife Refuges are "fulfilling their promise
to America's hunters and Anglers."
Waterfowl hunting on national wildlife refuges has surged nationally
by 75% since 1993. "More people are visiting refuges to hunt,
fish and otherwise enjoy and learn about wildlife."
Mr. Eric Eckl of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says:
the 'duck factory' of the upper Midwest, the refuge system accounts
for only 2 percent of the landscape, yet 23 percent of the region's
waterfowl breed there."
"The national wildlife refuge system provides some of
the premier hunting and fishing experiences available to sportsmen
and women today," said Jim Mosher, the Izaak Walton's League's
Conservation Director. "We applaud the work of the Service
to continually expand the opportunities for hunters and anglers
on refuges across the country."
Many of these refuges celebrate National Fishing
Week, National Hunting and Fishing Day with fishing derbies, special
youth hunts, and other events that expose the next generation of
conservationists to these sports."
In 1997 Clinton signed the system's first piece of organic
legislation, the National wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act,
which designated hunting and fishing as two of the six "priority
public uses" on refuge lands.
"The refuge system will continue to serve as a pillar
of these traditions and develop new generations of Americans concerned
about and involved in our wildlife heritage."
"The Service manages the 93 million-acre National Wildlife
Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges,
thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas.
It operates 66 national fish hatcheries. The agency enforces federal
wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages
migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries,
conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps
foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It overseas
the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of
dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state
fish and wildlife agencies."
Q & A
How much hunting and fishing occurs on NWR? In 1994, there
were just over 1.4 million hunting visits, and over 5 million fishing
visits. By 1998, those numbers doubled for hunting and went to
6 million fishing visits. More than ½ of the wildlife refuges are
open for hunting.
WHAT ABOUT WATERFOWL PRODUCTION AREAS (WPA)? The Services'
3,000 waterfowl production areas small wetland units managed as
part of the refuge system are all open to hunting and fishing.
800,000 people visit WPAs each year.
The WPAs are in Cooperative Agreements with Ducks Unlimited,
NRA, Safari Club International, and others.