The other day I was talking with a fellow resident of the Pennsylvania area about our local deer problem. Deer overpopulation is a big concern around here, as it is in many places. There are far more deer around my Louisiana hometown today than there were when I was growing up, but this is not because people have been moving into deer habitat. It’s a matter of overpopulation — and it’s a serious problem nationwide. Allan Sloan points out how there are a lot more automobile accidents today attributable to deer overpopulation. As Cornell University reminds us, if there’s enough food, local deer populations can double every two to three years. Says Cornell: “Eventually some form of population management is needed to control herd growth and maintain deer numbers within the social carrying capacity.”
If you spend any time searching for authoritative statistics and analysis of deer populations, you’ll see that wildlife biologists are pretty concerned by the effects of deer overpopulation not only on habitats and on the humans with whom these animals share the habitats (e.g., Lyme disease, destruction of agriculture, car wrecks), but also with the effects of overpopulation on the deer themselves. In Maine, for example, scientists “are concerned that deer they are sampling have small skeletal bones and low fat reserves. The deer are producing fewer young compared to healthy deer in other locations. This is not natural.”
Which brings us to the conversation I was having with my friend. In our part of the city — on the edge, close to the woods — there is an annual outcry against the deer cull in this area. Even though scientists have found that the deer population is destroying plant life in the park and in people’s backyards from overgrazing, certain folks raise a cry every year to the state’s deer culling. One local group of deer lovers put out a press release in advance of their demonstration, saying, “We will be focusing on giving thanks for having the white tailed deer in our community forests representing how wild animals can coexist within neighborhoods.” When they did their vigil last year, its leader claimed their constitutional rights were being oppressed.
Whatever. The point here is that both my friend, who lives in one of the suburban college towns in the Philly area, and I observed that there are no small number of sentimental suburbanites among us who find the idea of killing deer to be morally and philosophically intolerable. In Swarthmore, one of the suburban college towns, an aggrieved local man prefers that does be outfitted with diaphragms, or somesuch thing, and that fences be built around threatened plant species — this, rather than wild animals being killed for the greater good of the ecosystem.
In this, I am grateful for Wendell Berry’s policy of not endorsing environmentalist groups, though he himself is strongly in favor of protecting the natural world. From my book, “Crunchy Cons”:
One important thing the mainstream environmental movement can learn from conservatives, [Berry] observed, is respect for human community.
“I’ve been carrying on kind of a battle with the environmentalists for a long time, because I can’t get them interested in the conservative of the working landscapes, the economic landscapes,” he said. “I made a vow that I wasn’t going to sign on to any wilderness-protection projects that didn’t also try to preserve the environment where people made their living. They are assuming that they can preserve the natural world by means of wilderness protection, and I think that’s false.”
You often find that true hunters make the best conservationists.
UPDATE: Mr. Van Driessen alert!