The recent article, “It’s that Deer Time of Year,” offers tips to help drivers avoid hitting deer, but tells an incomplete story. While mating season initiates deer movement, hunting practices, too, are to blame. The Erie Insurance Group cites a five-fold increase in deer-related accidents on opening day—a statistic that has nothing to do with rut.
Unfortunately, the article also presents a platform for the Quality Deer Management Association, but offers no dissenting perspective. Despite the benign moniker, QDMA is dedicated to producing trophy-quality bucks through selective hunting and habitat manipulation. Like the DEC, QDMA seeks to normalize the recreational killing of wildlife through carefully constructed arguments which, to an undiscerning ear, sound like science.
The DEC’s recent Deer Management Study finds that “hunters prefer to harvest older bucks.” In other words, they pursue the biggest rack, despite the fact that killing bucks does not determine population. Dr. Allen Rutberg, a proponent of the newly EPA-approved deer contraceptive PZP, observes, “The most visible weakness in the assertion that hunting is necessary to control deer populations is that it has largely failed to do so… Just because deer are being killed doesn’t mean that deer populations are being controlled.”
Sadly, the DEC has done nothing to dispel the myth that deer numbers affect the incidence of Lyme disease in humans, while experts, including those from the Harvard School of Public Health, explicitly state otherwise. Deer neither carry nor transmit the disease, and not a single peer-reviewed study correlates deer culling with Lyme disease reduction in humans. There is, however, an abundance of data to suggest that killing deer has no impact on Lyme disease transmission.
What does impact tick population is the fox and lowly opossum. Opossums consume as many as 5,000 ticks per season, and foxes, who consume rodents, are essential to controlling the disease. But from late October until mid-February, New York hunters and trappers are permitted to kill an unlimited number of either species in any manner they see fit, including drowning, suffocating, and shooting. Coyotes, also essential to balanced ecosystems, are blamed by hunters for suppressing deer population, and endure six months of killing. Suggesting that we prevent Lyme disease by killing deer with bows and arrows in suburban backyards, or that we rectify the decline in hunting by encouraging 12-year-olds to shoot animals, is absurd.
Science doesn’t have an agenda, nor is it dependent on the sale of weapons or hunting licenses; but that is how our current system of wildlife management operates. The more we understand interdependency and ecosystem health, and the more diligently we assess the motivations of those who determine wild lives’ fate, the more evident the need for a balanced perspective.
Ashley Pankratz is a wildlife and outdoors enthusiast who lives in Livingston County.