British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke is credited as being the first to pronounce, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” The initial quote was in reference to military conflict, but in the ensuing two centuries it has been modified and applied to countless other subjects, including wildlife management. Perhaps the best example of that is the process of addressing nuisance wildlife issues.

As a wildlife biologist I’ve witnessed numerous examples. The process begins when deer numbers increase to a point where their status changes from a pleasant distraction to an annoyance, then a threat to human health and safety. The first sighting of a deer in the yard or a roadside field is a delightful surprise for suburbanites. Then the problems begin. People contract Lyme disease. Ornamental shrubs get ravaged and car-deer collisions increase. Residents seek advice and assistance from state wildlife professionals.

It’s an issue these professionals are quite familiar with because they’ve studied the history and often lived it while the average citizen hasn’t. So they repeat a process that goes like this.

First, there is a meeting where residents express their concerns. Based on history from their state and many others, wildlife biologists recommend some type of hunt as the best means to control the growing deer herd. Some residents agree while others don’t trust the trained, experienced professionals. They strenuously object, asking for some non-lethal means to control the problem.

Sterilization and immunocontraception have been tried and have largely failed. The only exceptions are extremely controlled circumstances where there is little or no movement of deer into the problem zone from adjacent areas. It’s also a very expensive process requiring considerable time and effort on the part of biologists who might otherwise be addressing more pressing matters like the protection of threatened and endangered species.

Trap and transfer is another method that has proven largely ineffective at controlling problem deer herds. It too is extremely expensive, estimates running around $1,000-$2,000 per deer. There’s also a high mortality rate associated with handling and moving deer both initially and after they’re relocated. And because deer numbers are fairly robust throughout the species’ range, it often results in simply relocating the problem. Furthermore, with recent concerns over the spread of maladies like chronic wasting disease, biologists are extremely reluctant to relocate deer.

Left with only lethal means, citizens next turn to hiring a sharp-shooter to cull the herd. This too is an expensive proposition, on a par with relocation. Furthermore, it is diametrically opposed to the North American model of wildlife conservation, which states that wildlife are public property. They belong to all citizens, many of whom do not live in the afflicted community, particularly hunters who may have a difficult time accessing productive hunting areas. Finally, after weeks, months and sometimes years of tinkering with alternate methods, residents concede to the biologists’ initial recommendation – a controlled hunt.

Sometimes it’s necessary to go through a process even though we know with statistical certainty what the ultimate outcome will be. Sometimes it isn’t. Given the budgetary and staffing constraints facing state wildlife agencies, the general public might be better served simply trusting their wildlife biologists when it comes to managing populations of deer, bear and other species. They’ve studied the history and understand the folly of repeating it.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]