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Bambi and the big, bad wolf PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 August 2017 17:05

In this wet, mild summer, everything is growing like crazy in Ozaukee County—farm crops, garden vegetables, flowers, weeds and . . . deer.
    The fauna added to that list of flora are not out of place. All indications are that the local deer population is also growing like crazy. One of those indications is the impressive volume of domesticated plants the animals are munching in gardens and flower beds.
    Baby deer are all over the place. Fawns, fearless as puppies, frolic in parks and along the Ozaukee Interurban Trail and prance across streets. These adorable Bambis will soon grow into big, voracious plant-mowing machines and clueless road hazards. Concerning the latter, motor vehicles are about the only deer predators in this part of state, hence the flourishing herd.     
    Whitetail deer are so well adapted to various environments in Wisconsin that they are thriving in growing numbers even in parts of the state where they are sharing forests with the most deadly of all deer predators, timber wolves.
    The Department of Natural Resources reports that the deer herd in the 18 counties of the northern forest management zone has grown this year to more than 480,000 animals, an 18% increase over 2016.
    This jump in the deer population was accompanied by an increase in the numbers of wolves. The DNR says there are now 925 wolves in the state, more than at any time since the species was all but wiped out in the 19th century.
    Hunters should be delighted by the good news about deer numbers, yet claims that the burgeoning wolf population is an existential threat to the sport of deer hunting persist. It’s an often repeated refrain: “The wolves are killing our deer.”
    That belief fuels much of the effort to overturn the federal court decision that has allowed wolves to regain a foothold in the forests their ancestors once roamed in great numbers. That 2014 ruling held that wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota are endangered or threatened, and prohibited those states from allowing wolf hunting or trapping.
    The impact of wolves on the deer population is often exaggerated. Wolves eat deer, of course; one wolf can kill as many as 20 adult deer in a year, according to wildlife experts. That might sound like a lot, but in northern Wisconsin that would amount to fewer than 2,000 deer taken by wolves from a herd of almost half a million.
    It turns out that in spite of their fierce reputation as deadly pack hunters, wolves have comparatively little effect on the deer population. Studies have shown that a harsh winter causes deer mortality in far greater numbers than predators.
    The biggest cause by far of deer death is human hunters. According to the DNR, rifle and bow hunters killed 599,000 deer in all of Wisconsin in 20l6.
    Deer hunting is a revered institution in Wisconsin, and it deserves to be. For many, the sport is a heritage passed along by generations. In its purest form, it is practiced as an ethic that honors the glory of nature.
    There should be no place in that institution for the notion that the deer are “ours,” that they are rightfully the prey of humans, and not of the natural predators that hunt them to survive.
    Humans who hunt should be thrilled to share the forests with noble animals that hunt and whose resurgence is such a welcome sign of nature’s enduring vigor.
    It’s tantalizing to think of what that vigor, in the form of a visiting wolf pack, could do to control the Ozaukee County deer nuisance.
    Never mind. Wolves belong in the wild. Deer do too, but they didn’t get the message.

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