Whitetail deer linked to decline in other wildlife species

This summer the staff and board of the Natural Land Institute saw firsthand the damage that whitetail deer have caused in the George B. Fell Nature Preserve at Castle Rock State Park near Oregon. They visited the preserve because deer populations and deer browsing damage are on the increase there and in many other natural areas, including on lands protected by the Natural Land Institute.

“Not only was the understory vegetation decimated at the Fell Preserve, there was no bird song in the forest,” said Lee Johnson of Rockton, a local authority on birds and former member of the NLI board. “These observations and the recent studies conducted in our region are very alarming and show that a radical change in deer management programs is needed to prevent irreversible damage to natural areas and wildlife,” Johnson said.

Studies by Michael D. Jones in 2004 and 2005 for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) found that high deer browse damage to woody plants shifts the special make-up of the forest canopy. The change in tree canopy affects the types and amounts of food available for use by wildlife. Jones also found that wildlife species have less plant cover as deer browsing changes forest structure, species composition and the density and height of plants in the understory of woodlands. He studied 14 state-owned sites, including Castle Rock State Park and the George B. Fell Nature Preserve in Ogle County, the Franklin Creek Nature Preserve in Lee County, Rock Cut State Park and Plum Creek Nature Preserve in Winnebago County and Ward’s Grove Nature Preserve in Jo Daviess County.

NLI is carefully considering ways to protect the integrity of our preserves from over-browsing by deer. We will provide updates as we analyze our options and continue to work with the IDNR, other agencies and organizations, and private landowners to manage the whitetail deer population to a level beneficial to the diverse ecology of northern Illinois.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue

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