Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bluff Point Deer Exclosure

The above newly installed deer exclosure was created at Bluff Point State Park in Groton, Connecticut, in 1990, which had an very high deer population at the time. As you can see, the ground is covered with grass only, so it actually looks like a lawn. The DEP documented deer dieing of starvation during the winter, and began to cull the herd that year.

Here's the same location in 1995. I saw this exclosure in 1993, and the image has stayed with me ever since. Although there was some hunting starting in 1990, it wasn't until 1996 that the population was reduced drastically.

And here's the same location in 2001, after the DEP drastically culled the deer population. The DEP deer hunt was (and probably still is) very controversial: Here's a NYTimes article from 1990 and another in 2001.

"Mr. May said Bluff Point's oak forest had almost no sprouts or undergrowth of any kind in the mid-1980's and that around that time the agency's biologists were finding starving deer in the spring. They examined the bones of some of the dead deer and found their marrow was liquid instead of solid, as it should be, a sign the animals were severely malnourished, he said.

''It was not a situation that anybody could consider to be humane or natural,'' Mr. May said.

Since the hunts started, the average weights of the deer removed from Bluff Point have gone up, and the vegetation is starting to grow back, said Edward Parker, chief of the agency's Bureau of Natural Resources."

Note: The photos above have been widely circulated and published. I believe they originated from the DEP, but I'm not sure.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Smaller Deer in Fairfield County

This deer fence in Redding shows the dramatic impacts that deer have on forest vegetation. It also shows that deer don't have very much left to eat in some areas, and likely explains the smaller deer weights reported by hunters from 2007 to 2009 in Fairfield County.

State Average = 104.4 lbs
Lowest average = Zone 11 (Fairfield County) 100.0 lbs
Highest Average = Zone 2 (in Litchfield County) 112.1 lbs

** Fairfield County yearlings weighed 4.4 lbs less than the state average and 12.1 lbs less than deer in Litchfield County.

State Average = 142.5 lbs
Lowest Average = Zone 11 (Fairfield County) 136.0 lbs
Highest Average = Zone 2 (in Litchfield County) 157.7 lbs

**Fairfield County adults weighed 6.5 lbs less than the state average and 21.7 lbs less that deer in Litchfield County.

Are these deer smaller in stature, or are they failing to put on fat for the coming winter? How long have the deer been smaller in Fairfield County? Is there anything else that might explain the lower reported weights?

This data is from http://www.ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/wildlife/pdf_files/game/deersum09.pdf, Table 10.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Trout Brook Valley

Trout Brook Valley in Easton is a large tract of open space partly open to hunting. I started out my hike today at the small parking area opposite Country Club Lane, and hiked for a couple of hours through areas where hunting is prohibited and other areas where it is allowed. The difference is remarkable. Compare the next two photos, because they really show how deer strip a forest. The first is taken in a hunting-prohibited area. The next is within the legal hunting area:

The hunting-prohibited area wasn't all as bare as that first photo. Farthest from the hunting areas, there were vast patches of Japanese Barberry, an invasive species (above photo). A notice tacked to a tree announced that a grant had been acquired to remove some of the Barberry. However, the reason invasive species are bad is that they displace native species. In this case, they are displacing nothing, and perhaps Japanese Barberry is better than nothing. At least it does provide some food and cover for wildlife.

There wasn't just one spot that looked like the photo above - there were many areas like this. However, as the trail moved closer to a hunting area, I did see some more growth. Mostly it was homogenous patches of Sweet Pepperbush, or a patch of Huckleberry, or some ferns and grasses the deer won't eat (the ferny-grassy areas are deceptively pretty). Occasionally I spotted a tree sapling, usually birch or beech, which are not favored by deer.

In the hunting area, the growth was much more dense. A person would have trouble walking through the saplings in the photo above. Some areas were thinner than others, but even another hiker noted to me that he had noticed the difference in vegetation, although he didn't know why it was so different from one end of the park to the other.

The growth was also much more diverse. I sampled one 10 ft x 10 ft area, starting with some berries from Maple Leaf Viburnum (above), which was totally absent from the no-hunting areas. The same little 10 x10 patch had Huckleberry and a variety of herbaceous plants, as well as all the following tree saplings:

Sugar Maple

Red Maple

Oak (a deer favorite)




All in a 10 x 10 foot patch.

This is what the forest should look like.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hayscented Fern

It looks pretty, but Hayscented Fern behaves like an invasive species in the presence of too many deer.  They won't eat the fern, but will eat the fern's competitors. This allows the fern to spread rapidly via runners and take over the forest floor. The photo is in Shelton, near Oak Valley Road.