The Adaptable Whitetail Makes It's Home In Both City And Country.
"Very intelligent and very adaptable, they have no problem living in close proximity to humans beings at all."
The White Tail Deer has become a common visitor in Western New York, on land both rural and urban. And in some areas have become so numerous as to cause inevitable problems as they come in close contact with man.
Damage to land and car-deer collisions have given the Whitetail a nuisance reputation, and much money and effort have been dedicated by municipalities to try to solve the problem. Yet this situation was not always so.
Fifty years ago, the deer were more populous in the Southern Tier, but habitat change caused by human development forced the deer to migrate north in search of a more suitable place to live.
Tim Spierto is a Big Game Biologist with the New York Department Of Environmental Conservation, and well versed in Whitetail behavior.
"The way we've chosen to manipulate our landscapes in preference to ourselves is impacting deer and where they're choosing to live," says Spierto. "We allow the forest to grow in the extreme Southern Tier, and then we clear the land in the Northern Tier. And by virtue of doing that, for our own residences, we are inviting deer to come live right next door to us, and that's exactly what's happening, and it's been a trend that's been going on for forty, fifty years now."
Deer population control has taken on a varied approach, from contraception to bait and shoot programs. Still, the most effective form of control is the hunter. Both celebrated and maligned, the population of hunters has been in decline for years, but remains the Whitetails only effective predator.
Spierto explains, "We have taken on the role of the apex predator, for sure. There's nothing else that can limit deer numbers like humans can, and we consider regulated hunting as the foremost tool in deer management."
Although the Whitetail population in some areas of the suburbs are quite high, they are nowhere near their Biological Carrying Capacity...yet. Not so for the Cultural Carrying Capacity of many Western New Yorkers.
"Biological Carrying Capacity is how many deer can the landscape hold. I mean, how many deer can we provide food, shelter, and water for without seeing detrimental effects on either the habitat or the population," says Spierto. "Cultural Carrying Capacity is how many deer are humans going to allow on the landscape before we start running them over with our cars every night, and seeing so much damage on a personal level that we just can't have them there."
An ideal place to get a glimpse of the impact of a local deer population that has reached it's Biological Carrying Capacity is Tifft Nature Preserve In Buffalo. The 264 acre preserve has recently counted 77 deer, a huge amount. The deer have taken their toll on Tifft's vegetation, particularly young Cottonwood trees, a favorite food for the Whitetail.
David Spiering, an Ecologist at Tifft, sees the deer's effect every day. "Their favorite food is young trees and buds, and here at Tifft we have a wonderful forest of Cottonwood trees that is great habitat for songbirds and other wildlife, but, like everything, Cottonwoods don't live forever, and the next generation needs to come up, and that next generation is really not happening here at Tifft. We think largely in part because of the deer browse."
To combat the over browsing, Tifft has been successful enclosing the young trees with fencing until they are big enough to survive on their own.
Despite the difficulties the deer create for the preserve, they're still very welcome tenants, and Tifft provides an outstanding place to see the intricacies of nature up close, a natural classroom just a short hike from Buffalo.
Spiering says, "Few other places do you get the opportunity to see deer so close, and so easy and accessible, we're only three miles from downtown, very accessible hiking trails, come and take a walk, and it's an opportunity that a lot of people do not have to get out to more remote or rural places to see wildlife."