Deer Damaging Bird Habitat

LEBANON, PA–The over-browsing of Pennsylvania’s forests and agricultural areas by too many deer has eliminated thousands of acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife, according to Timothy Schaeffer, PhD, executive director of Audubon Pennsylvania, the state office of the National Audubon Society.

Dr. Schaeffer made the comments before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee at a listening session on rural and agricultural issues in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He called deer the largest single threat to bird habitat after urban sprawl.

“The impact of deer on our forest ecosystem, the crop and forest products losses, the loss of life and property from deer/car collisions and the impact on public health from the incidence of Lyme disease carried by deer have all been documented and the picture painted by these numbers is not good,” said Dr. Schaeffer.

A study released in March by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources showed fewer than 25 percent of the 41,650 forest plots they looked at across the state showed desirable forest regeneration and almost 45 percent lacked any new woody growth.

Nearly all of Audubon’s 84 Important Bird Areas in Pennsylvania has experienced damage caused by deer over-browsing. These are areas of habitat critical to the survival and diversity of bird populations that must meet dozens of science-based criteria for designation, he said.

“In addition to habitat losses, there is an estimated $90 million in agricultural crop loss and $73 million in damage to our forest products every year caused by deer, according to the Department of Agriculture,” said Dr. Schaeffer. “Nurseries are losing an average of $20,000 a year due to deer damage, and state taxpayers lose $18 million a year in deferred and lost timber stumpage sales.”

In 2006, state legislators established that $78 million in property damage occurs in the over 39,000 deer/car collisions each year in Pennsylvania, not counting the deaths and injuries to the people involved, the highest of any state in the nation.

In addition, the incidence of Lyme disease, a debilitating and sometimes fatal illness spread by deer ticks, has increased by over 9,000 percent between 1987 and 2004, according to the state Department of Health.

Schaeffer supports allowing hunters to reduce the deer population without further restrictions.The first priority should be the restoration and maintenance of fully functional forest ecosystems, containing a full omponent of native biological diversity at all levels, he said. “It is the best way to serve the long-term interests of the people and wildlife of Pennsylvania.”–AP