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Western States Suffer Declining Deer Numbers, Higher Deer Tension

Mule Deer
Mule Deer by Marvin James Phelps

The southwest has a deer shortage and deer controversy.

What could be controversial, you think? We’ve all been told that deer cause havoc, eating forest understory, crashing into 1.5 million cars every year, which kills 150 people and costs $1.1 billion.  Many people I talk to say they approve of hunting just because it cuts down the deer population. A Responsive Management Survey found more Americans approve of hunting deer (78%) than any other animal.

A Westfield State College paper from Massachusetts paper sums up the gratitude we should feel towards hunters because they “provide a means of controlling deer populations. Without some means of restraint, there is the potential to have deer expanding into areas beyond their natural habitat. This can endanger humans as well as the deer themselves.”

But in this case–as in many others–hunters want to increase the number of deer.  Nevada’s mule deer numbers have been cut by half since 1988, so hunters want to start shooting coyote and mountain lion. But state game officials say that won’t do any good; habitat loss is to blame for the deer decline. Tony Wasley, Nevada’s mule deer specialist, told USAToday that “all the predator control in the world won’t result in any benefit.”

But, science be damned, the governor and the hunters he appointed on the state’s wildlife commission want to shoot some varmints. Nevada Wildlife Commission Chairman Gerald Lent asked the feds to start killing predators (they said no, since there was no biological basis) and then he started a committee to restore mule deer. “The governor gave me and our commission a direct order — that he wants something done about our declining deer numbers,” Lent told the Nevada Appeal.

I think most people would be surprised that wildlife commissions’ official missions are to promote hunting, not a healthy environment. But hunters seem to feel entitled to have their needs put above wildlife watchers and the general public. The same survey by Responsive Management found that the majority of hunters in New Hampshire would approve of increasing the deer and moose population even if it meant more human-moose conflicts (86%), moose-car crashes (63%), deer-car crashes (68%) and damage to crops, timber and landscaping. I wonder if Nevada will go the way of Idaho, which recently introduced skunks and badgers to kill pelicans, and bring in some other predators to kill the predators that hunters don’t like.

Where to Go See Wildlife Out West
Where to Go See Deer

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