Passing the Buck   Leave a comment

An old cowboy song goes ‘Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play’. As we know, buffalo (American Bison, Bison bison) are roaming in protected areas, including California’s Yosemite Park; and antelope (Pronghorn Antelope, Antilocapra americana) are playing in the plains and grasslands; but, at least in California, there are fewer and fewer deer (Mule and Blacktail deer, Odocoileus hemionus) every year and the reason appears to be loss of natural space.

mule deer hide seek USFS

“I’m playing hide and seek with an antelope. He’ll never find me behind this tree.”

For many people, deer and the outdoors go hand-in-hand (or maybe hoof-in-hand), and no thought of the forest is complete without herds of deer grazing in a tree-lined meadow or drinking from a glistening forest stream or of a little baby deer fawn laying quietly under the shadows of a towering pine. Who doesn’t love a little baby fawn? But, just in the past twenty years, California has lost almost half of its deer population and this loss has been tracked all the way back to the 1800’s when pioneers and lumber companies and other people were in a rush to develop the land by cutting down all those trees that were in the way, and build roads and cities on the nice flat meadows. Year-by-year no one noticed much difference in the number of deer, but over decades of study scientists and researchers have found the main challenge deer, and other wildlife face are not predators or disease or drought or other natural changes, but the loss of natural environments that happens slowly over time (although to be fair, sometimes deer contribute to their own problems by eating all the food in an area, leaving little to grow and keep the land healthy. Deer aren’t big on planning for the future).

And now, in California as well as other Western states, there are far fewer deer than there ever have been. No one is certain how many deer is necessary for a healthy population; and in fact in other parts of the United States, there may be too many deer that are causing problems by eating peoples gardens and contributing to wildlife disease and overcrowding. What is certain, though, is that deer are a type of indicator species that reflects on the overall health of wildlife and wild places. And when the deer are finding it harder and harder to live, that’s a very discouraging word.

Posted August 1, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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