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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Quality Deer Management -- It's About Habitat

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., July 22, 2006.)
Wherever mature bucks with bigger antlers
exist in a healthy deer herd, it's primarily
because they were not harvested when they
were adolescents. Bigger antlers are a
byproduct of QDM practices, not the goal.
Ducks Unlimited (1937) was an early conservation success. Along came Trout Unlimited (1959), and the National Wild Turkey Federation (1973). Throughout the twentieth century sportsmen were taking the initiative to make sure ducks would always have marshes along their flyways, trout streams would always have good water quality, and wild turkeys would always have the habitat they need to thrive. Hunters and non-hunters can be thankful that those farsighted conservationists were devoted to these specific species.

Back then, few sportsmen thought anyone would need to step up to the plate (other than the dinner plate) for deer. We had plenty of woods for deer to live in, and they seemed to be doing fine. In fact, whitetails had recovered from scarcity and had become very plentiful without any special focus on preserving or enhancing deer habitat. The deer population had rallied so well that by the 1980's we had so many deer in some places that they threatened the destruction of their own habitat. But now, partly because of that threat, the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) has entered the scene, becoming a national organization in 1990.

All conservation organizations invest time and money to benefit the species they serve, and rely on science to determine how and where these resources are best spent. And science says that the primary threat to any species is not regulated hunting. It's not even poaching. It's the loss or degradation of habitat.

As with Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and similar organizations, the QDMA is foremost about habitat. But compared to these other conservation organizations, the QDMA is a fledgling group, and many people have yet to see the need for an organization devoted to an animal so prolific that we can't stop it from slamming into our cars.

Deer hunting has become controversial even among deer hunters, and many of them do not understand what the words "quality deer management" mean. Lots of people think quality deer management (QDM) is about antlers. Big ones. It's not surprising people would think that, but it's not true.

I recently attended the annual convention of the QDMA in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and I learned a few things. First, the goal of quality deer management is not to produce bigger antlers. It's to provide the best habitat possible for whitetail deer.

Deer have an enormous ability to harm their own habitat. Simply put, they can eat themselves out of house and home. And when they do, they put the habitat of other species at risk, too. For that reason, quality deer management is a broadly conceived program that pursues a number of goals.

Quality deer management seeks to enhance habitat so that deer will not harm it for themselves and other species. It advocates removing enough does to keep the population from exceeding the maximum for the habitat and to keep the sex ratio of the herd in balance. QDM protects immature bucks from harvest in order to achieve a balanced age range. And it ensures that the food deer need in every season is available in order to prevent undernourishment and the stresses of disease and competition for food.

Quality deer management is not genetic selection. It is not merely feeding deer. It is not hunting in high fenced areas. It is not even antler restrictions, although some workable method must be used to permit bucks to survive to maturity.

Many people confuse quality deer management with trophy deer management. Trophy deer management differs dramatically from QDM. Trophy management focuses on high scoring antlers, but whitetails don't achieve maximum antler growth until their body size reaches full maturity – normally at 4½ or 5½ years of age. Producing bucks of this age class benefits few deer hunters, and is not the goal of quality deer managers.

Yes, under quality deer management, healthy bucks in a healthy deer herd living in healthy habitat will produce bigger antlers. But that's not primarily because they have access to food plots, and not because inferior bucks are eliminated from the herd. Wherever mature bucks with bigger antlers exist in a healthy deer herd, it's primarily because they were not harvested when they were adolescents. Bigger antlers are a byproduct of QDM practices, not the goal.

On the hunter side, QDM is an effort to make every deer hunter an educated deer hunter, schooled not only in hunting strategies, but also in what deer mean to the long term, broader picture of the environment they share. That's why the slogan of the QDMA is "The future of deer hunting." The website of the Quality Deer Management Association, www.QDMA.org, provides lots of information on proper deer habitat management.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dave Samuel's Know Hunting -- A Review

For Hunters, Non-Hunters and Anti-Hunters
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., July 8, 2006.)
Recreational hunting has saved wildlife,
and hunting provides the only viable
economic incentive for wildlife management.
If you're a hunter who finds your favorite pastime under attack, your summer reading time will be well spent with "Know Hunting: Truth, Lies and Myths" by Dr. David E. Samuel. If you're a non-hunter who hasn't thought much about the pros and cons, "Know Hunting" will be very informative. And if you're an anti-hunter, "Know Hunting" will give you the deeper truths about hunting and conservation.

Written in a straight-forward, easy-to-read style by a professor of wildlife management (now retired) from the University of West Virginia, "Know Hunting" is a comprehensive defense of hunting. Published in 1999, it's still very much up to date.

The debate about hunting in America is loaded with emotion on both sides, but Samuel doesn't succumb to the temptation to sling mud. He truly wants to understand those who oppose him -- and to be understood by them.

Samuel discusses a broad range of issues related to hunting and the anti-hunting ideology that competes against it. He believes urbanization is at the heart of the contrast between these ideologies. He explains that urbanized people lack first-hand exposure to wildlife and that few of them recognize they are part of the predator-prey system. He reveals the profound difference between "animal rights" and "animal welfare." He contends that once the public understands this distinction -- that animal rightists are the real extremists, and that hunters care more and do more for animal welfare -- it will be positive for hunting.

He describes how recreational hunting has saved wildlife and how hunting provides the only viable economic incentive for wildlife management -- not only in North America but everywhere in the world. He says that anti-hunters make a shallow argument when they say that what hunters do for wildlife is so that they can kill more animals. He shows how a decline in the number of hunters is bad for all kinds of wildlife -- not just game species. And he makes a strong case that ethical hunting fights the anti-hunting movement.

He surveys the enormous impact of the dollars contributed by hunters to the welfare of wildlife through the sale of hunting licenses, and also through one of the most successful pieces of federal legislation ever passed, the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937. Hunters and the hunting industry lobbied for a tax on guns and hunting equipment that would be dedicated to wildlife management and distributed through the states. It has produced billions of dollars. Neither non-hunters nor anti-hunters offer any comparable source of funding for wildlife, so the financial contribution of non-hunters is miniscule compared to that of hunters, and the financial commitment of anti-hunters to the wildlife they presume to protect is almost non-existent.

And hunters' support of wildlife is not simply through dollars spent. Hunters also do something anti-hunters almost never do -- they support wildlife through time invested in habitat improvement, which helps non-game species as well as game animals.

Samuel answers more questions than can be listed here: Why animal rights advocates cannot be considered environmentalists. Why some of the alternate methods of animal population control are actually inhumane compared to hunting. Why voter referenda on wildlife management are bad. How vegetarians are responsible for the deaths of animals. Why bans on hunting cannot end the killing of wildlife. Why the biblical injunction "Thou shalt not kill" does not apply to hunting.

Samuel argues that hunting should not be considered a sport, and I'm leaning his way. In responding to the dictionary definition of sport, he says, "Hunting isn't play or frolic. It's not done for simple amusement. It isn't a game…. Hunting is not about winning and losing. Sporting games usually have an audience, hunting does not…. Hunting is solemn. It is private."

Two things could help this book. One is for it to be reprinted with some new case studies. The other is the addition of an index to make the enormous amount of information in this book more accessible.

In the recent past, the wildlife manager was accountable only to hunters. Today, his job is much more difficult because he answers to a variety of people with competing worldviews. This difficult job would be made much easier if everyone would read "Know Hunting."

There is so much in this "must-read" that very little can be mentioned in a review. Anyone who reads it will be better informed about wildlife issues. If hunters and non-hunters alike would read "Know Hunting," we'd probably see fewer "No Hunting" signs on private property. "Know Hunting" by Dr. David Samuel is well worth reading, and reading again. Perhaps the best thing you can do for hunting is to Order a copy of "Know Hunting" from Amazon.com and read it so you can pass on the information in it.