In a recent column, Daniel Cristol, professor of biology at the College of William and Mary, talked about the declining population of warblers, a bird commonly sought after by bird watchers.
During the peak migration you can find bird watchers scattered throughout Central Park with binoculars glued to their face in search of warblers and other migratory birds, but what used to be a common sight is now becoming a more rare encounter.
So what’s happening to the warblers? While you could point the finger at domestic cats and harmful chemicals that pollute the warblers’ drinking water, it’s the rapid loss of habitat that’s the real issue.
Part of the reason for the loss of habitat comes from the land we clear for developments, but what about browsing by an over population of whitetails?
Whitetail deer are incredibly adaptive. As we push them out of larger forests and into smaller woodlots they have adapted by eating everything in sight – including the warblers nesting grounds.
In the suburbs of Westchester County, New York, for example, there are areas with as many as 60-100 deer per square mile, a number well over the carrying capacity of the land, which is closer to 15.
It’s no secret that the deer in suburban New York are overpopulated and causing destruction to our forests – forest regeneration is almost non-existent and browse lines are clearly visible.
A few years back in Westchester County a Deer Management Plan was enacted to open state parks up to bowhunting in an effort to put the deer population in check. The programs have been successful in terms of managing deer and populations are decreasing.
While Cristol believes we have to stop managing our forest for deer and start managing the deer for our forests, I disagree. I think the state agencies are managing our deer populations to reduce them within the carrying capacity of the land. The real problem is hunter access.
If hunters can’t access the land to hunt because public areas are closed to hunting or private landowners are unwilling to grant permission, then the deer numbers will remain too high.
The key to saving the migratory birds nesting grounds isn’t changing the way we manage our deer herd, it’s allowing hunters to get in the woods and hunt them.