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Venison in Limbo?

Bayou-Diversity (12 January 2020) Recently I walked across the street from my house and killed a deer on the edge of the D'Arbonne Swamp. The land there is in the process of producing its third forest in historic times. One hundred years ago my great grandfather tried to feed his large family by growing corn and cotton on the marginal soils of this Pleistocene terrace. Eventually they pretty much starved out, and it was root hog or die for those in my grandfather's generation. One thing is certain. Neither of these close relatives could have supplemented their larder with venison backstraps from the property as I did. In their day deer had been eliminated from this area and indeed from much of the eastern United States. The species that had once played the same vital role for eastern Native American cultures as bison did for those in the west survived only in the most remote and inaccessible regions. Habitat modification and large-scale, unregulated hunting initiated a population plunge that ended only in the early twentieth century.

The onset of scientific wildlife management, including applied research and restrictive harvest regulations, resulted in a dramatic recovery of the species throughout its range. At an estimated population of 30 million, more white-tailed deer live in North America now than at any time in the past. Last year (2018-19) in Union Parish where I shot the deer, hunters according to LDWF records harvested 3,794 deer, or 1 deer per 126 forested acres. The total harvest for all Louisiana was 120,800. For hunters the resurgence of deer has been a welcomed phenomenon.

The news though is not all good these days. Deer populations in many areas of the country are now unnaturally high and unsustainable. Deer predators no longer exist in numbers sufficient to keep herds in balance with habitat. Hunting as a management tool to keep populations in check is declining. Managers are concerned that widespread habitat destruction and die-offs may occur in some regions.

Even in Louisiana there has been a steady downward trend in deer harvested over the last 10 years. Areas of concern include declining lactation rates in does indicating reproductive issues caused by some form of stress (e.g. nutritional, flooding, poor habitat), competition with increasing feral hog populations, loss and degradation of good habitat due to development and such practices as industrial pine tree farming, and the threat of chronic wasting disease.

If at some point venison backstraps once again become scarce in Union Parish, it will likely be because of a different type of habitat destruction than the first time around, and a lack of hunting instead of too much of that activity.


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