There’s absolutely no question how important the white-tailed deer is, but in case you’re not convinced consider the following. Roughly 11 million people hunt deer every year and 16 million individuals have hunted deer within the last five years. Ninety-seven percent of whitetails and whitetail hunters live in 37 states, and deer are the most sought-after species in 36 of those states. Four times more people hunt deer than the next most sought-after species, generating roughly half of the $87 billion hunting industry and providing 1.2 billion wholesome meals every year for themselves, friends and often complete strangers.
Deer drive the system and according to Kip Adams, outreach director of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), “If it weren’t for deer, everything we know about wildlife management would fall apart tomorrow, not next week, not next month, literally tomorrow.”
So you see, they’re a pretty important species. Deer populations and deer hunters have experienced some boom times over the last two decades. But the most recent data available – 2012-13 seasons – indicate the times, they are a changin.’
A 2007 outbreak of hemorrhagic disease, described as a 100-year event, was followed by an even more devastating 2012 outbreak resulting in deer population declines of 10 and even 20 percent in some states. Meanwhile, the chronic wasting disease has been identified in 22 states and two Canadian provinces.
Predators are having an increasingly greater impact on deer. Mainers are aware of the impact coyotes have on deer, or are they? Studies from the Southeast – where winters are not a confounding factor – have shown significant declines in fawn production (50 percent or more) directly attributable to coyote predation. Meanwhile studies from other Northeastern states, which don’t have as many bears as Maine, have shown that black bears are a significant predator. And folks from the lake and mountain states will tell you the impact wolves have had on deer and elk populations.
These factors and others are having an impact. In the last decade, deer harvests have declined 5 percent or more in 14 states, more than 10 percent in 11 states and at least 20 percent in eight states.
That alone is discouraging hunters, as is declining access to private land for hunting.
Lease rates are soaring – up to $100 per acre in New York and Wisconsin, while funding for public land continues to decline. So, it seems, is funding for deer biologists as the number of staff whose position is dedicated largely (more than 50 percent) to deer averages around two for most states and has declined in seven states.
Perhaps we’ve had it too good for too long. Other hunting factions have done a much better job of organizing and pooling their resources for a common cause. It’s about time deer hunters did the same.
Earlier this year, the QDMA hosted the first North American Whitetail Summit, bringing together all the stakeholder groups and acknowledging the need for a national organization dedicated to uniting deer hunters, managers and enthusiasts in the conservation of deer populations. Attendees also identified QDMA as the organization best suited to form this new umbrella group, and so they did.
The newly formed National Deer Alliance will serve as the unified voice of deer hunters, listening to their concerns and advocating for sound conservation. Membership is free, so if you want to be part of what organizers hope will eventually be more than one million members, check them out at nationaldeeralliance.com
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: