Advisory group is weighing options for ‘deer damage'

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KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Wildlife Biologist Scott Darling says he's run into a bit of a paradox: In some parts of the state he has to explain why hunters took fewer deer this season and in others why there are too many deer for the local forest to support.

Darling, along with hunters, foresters, landowners from across the state sit on the Deer and Forestland Advisory Group, which was formed by the Legislature as part of Act 54, a law addressing captive deer facilities.

Darling said the group's basic goal is to come up with recommendations on solving a problem some landowners, mainly those with involvement in the forest products industry, are having with deer.

In some places deer are preventing forests from recovering after they have been cut by feeding heavily on the young plants springing up to replace the old, he said.

The problem of "deer damage" is more complex than there being too many deer in an area, Darling said, and there are other factors to consider. The advisory group, he said, has met three times so far, the first time in November, and it came up with a list of things to consider beyond the amount of deer in a particular area.

Darling said deer prefer to eat native plants and will choose them over invasive species, leaving those plants with an even greater advantage over the indigenous ones and allowing them to take a greater hold.

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How landowners actually manage their land can have an effect on deer "browsing," Darling said. The size of a cut area may encourage deer to eat more there, rather than spreading their feeding over a larger area.

Some possible solutions that have been suggested include identifying best management practices for forests and getting that information to foresters. Darling said the group also hopes to find an effective way to pair hunters with landowners suffering from too many deer, much in the way trappers are employed to remove problem animals such as beaver.

Darling said one problem facing hunters across the state is that land to hunt on is becoming more and more scarce, with landowners choosing to post their property. He said hunting is a valid method of population control and the group would aim to spread that information.

Rob Borowske, a chiropractor from Barre who is chairman of the group, said he expects to be able to submit findings to the state Fish and Wildlife Department commissioner sometime in January. The commissioner will then make a report to the Legislature.

"We really can't say what this is going to look like until the very end," he said.

Some things the group seems to agree on are that it does not want to encourage out of season deer harvests and would prefer to work within existing seasons if it is to match hunters with landowners who have deer browsing problems. In general, he said, the group wishes to make suggestions that direct existing deer management systems to problem areas.

Hunting alone may not be the answer, he said, and forest management techniques are being discussed along with many other ideas. He said one of the group's strengths is the diversity of its members.

Borowske said the deer browsing issue is primarily affecting southeastern Vermont.


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