The Potomac Highlands
Watershed School's Environmental Forum provides a setting for
students and teachers to explore regionally important environmental
issues in depth. Students work both as a class and with other
students across the internet to understand problems and to seek solutions that are broadly
acceptable to their communities.
Current eForum is
Past eForums are archived
here. CI's highlights from
past eForums are here.
Environmental Forum 2010
Monday, October 11 to
Friday, November 20, 2010.
1. Welcome to the "Oh Deer!"
Environmental Forum 2010
Welcome and Introduction
(Sections 1-3) Worksheet
10/29/09 - The Moderator's Coyote Challenge
Coyotes are becoming
more common in the East. Coyotes are known to
on deer, particularly fawns. There is some question
about their overall
impact on the size of the deer herd, but maybe they
affect deer behavior like the wolves do in Yellowstone.
Maybe, just maybe, they make deer nervous, keep them on the
move, and reduce excessive browsing in our damaged forests.
But agricultural interests worry about
coyote predation on livestock. So, here is a
Moderator Challenge to the
stakeholders: are you willing to intentionally let the coyote
population get larger to find out if the possible benefits to
agriculture from a smaller deer herd out weigh the costs to
agriculture from livestock predation? How about bobcats,
prey on deer during periods of heavy snow?
For five weeks, beginning on October
12, you will join classmates and
students from other schools in exploring the environmental and
societal problems caused by deer overpopulation, and seeking
solutions that might really fix the problem and that your community
could find acceptable. You will learn about:
The range of problems that can be caused by an ecosystem out of
balance, with a lot of links to other websites, and a few essays from natural resource professionals.
Think of them as
suggested by state agencies and universities to control the
The politics of seeking solutions acceptable to our diverse
OH Deer! 2010
10/11 - 10/15
10/18 - 10/22
10/25 - 10/29
11/1 - 11/5
11/8 - 11/12
11/14 - 11/19
Consensus Paper Posting
9/5/2009. New York Times:
Tick-Borne Illnesses Have Nantucket Considering Some Deer-Based
Nantucket became so sweet on its deer that
when Old Buck was killed by a car in 1932, a newspaper
editorialized: “he deserved to live to a good old age, that he
might see his grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
great-great-grandchildren, and a lot moregrand progeny, thrive
happily in the swamps and moors of Nantucket.”
Now that progeny, island-bound with no
apparent swimmers among them, is the focus of Nantucket’s
attempt to grapple with diseases caused by
ticks that feed on deer blood. Not just the familiar
Lyme disease but also babesiosis and
ehrlichiosis, which are less common, can be debilitating or
Last year, Nantucket had 411
laboratory-confirmed cases of tick diseases, up from 257 in
2007. And health officials say some cases are not reported, some
Lyme disease diagnoses are made clinically, and some visitors’
ailments are diagnosed off-island.
The eForum has five distinct stages:
"Oh Deer! Forum will use the following format:
material on this page, and gather information from additional
sources on the internet as needed. Don't be shy about
surfing the web to learn more. The links below should be
enough to get you started.
Each class breaks into
three to four stakeholder groups, with each group representing a stakeholder's
point of view (POV),
farmer, hunter, forester, the forest, homeowner, insurance
about Stakeholders, try this
Groups in each class prepare "position papers" representative of
their stakeholder's POV. These papers are handed in to
their teacher and sent to CI for posting on the website (either
an on-line form or by email).
POV posting to the web
began the evening of October 18th and will end the evening of
October 29th. All schools
should have draft POVs posted no later than 10/29/10.
For some tips
on writing strong POVs, click
should be concise and persuasive. The optimum
length for a POV is from 250 to 600 words.)
expert changes his POV.
a new life experience can change your point of view
very suddenly. That happened to Aldo Leopold,
perhaps the most influential conservationist of the
20th Century. He was a widely respected expert
in forestry, wildlife management, and land
conservation. In 1933, he was among the first
to argue persuasively for a conservation ethic - a
very new idea at the time. He thought he
understood how the world worked. And then, in
1936, he took a hunting trip:
... to the
Madre in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, a land
in the same climatic zone as New Mexico, where
Leopold had spent so many years. He was
thunderstruck by the beauty of the landscape, in
which many animal species were abundant but none
'All my life,' he said, 'I had seen only sick
land, whereas here was a biota still in perfect
aboriginal health. The term 'unspoiled
wilderness' took on new meaning.'
Such was Leopold's
road to Damascus; his conversion, like Saint
Paul's, produced an emotional and intellectual
turn of 180 degrees. From being the enemy of
predators, he became their friend and champion.
From one who had sought to maximize the number
of deer lives, he became the proponent of the
temperate killing of prey animals-- by
predators, preferably, but by human hunters if
necessary; in any case, a killing of prey
animals for the good of their own kind.
After Position Papers are posted to the web,
participating students check out their peers’ work in other
classes and other schools, ask questions across the web, learn
more about the science and issues, and refine their positions. The "Thoughtful
Discussion" form, where students can ask questions of each other
and the moderator, will be available from each stakeholder POV
on October 25.
Final Consensus Plans
that balance the needs of all
stakeholder groups are negotiated in each classroom. They
can be submitted at any time during the eForum, but will be posted to the web
on, or after, 11/14/2010.
Some tips on forming a consensus are
Oh Deer! Consensus Plans will
be logical, will lay out your reasoning, including the pluses and minuses
of your plan, and will include literature citations
supporting your decisions.
What is a
stakeholder is a person or a group with an interest in the
success of an organization, project, or government action.
(To learn more about Stakeholders, try this
.) Stakeholders in the Bay cleanup include homeowners,
municipalities, fishermen, and farmers, among others. Each of these
groups will be affected by the measures that will be taken
to fix the Bay, and each wants a “seat at the table” when
options are discussed or decisions are made. Every
stakeholder group has interests that are unique to them, and
every stakeholder group wants to be heard. Your first
job will be to write a persuasive “Point of View” statement
for your stakeholder group that describes why you are
important, how the Bay’s problems (or related problems)
affect you, how the possible solutions affect you personally
and maybe affect your livelihood, and what solutions and
approaches your group would prefer.
For some tips on writing strong POVs, click
here. You will have two
"bites at this apple." During the second week each
group should really try to build a strong case for their
group's position - based on facts, not just belief.
Think about these questions:
the solutions “cost” you in any demonstrable way?
What do you have to give up?
the solutions benefit you directly?
could be done that would make your group more willing to
could the solutions be structured so your group would
prosper as a result?
would happen if you were so harmed by the process that
are a few ground rules for this Forum.
There are not a lot of ground rules
for this Forum. All serious entries will be posted as
submitted (including typos and grammatical errors). "Act of
God" solutions will not be considered. In other words, you may
not assume that the problem will solve itself. We are aware
that Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in deer in some areas
- if you choose to use this or other diseases as a deliberate part
of your "solution" that is up to you.
During the final week, you must work as a group to find a solution
to the problem.
Just keep in mind that
what you write will be available for the entire world to read.
4. General Background
Section 4 Worksheet
To help you visualize the problem,
take a look at the short slide show
about deer impacts on our
The Maryland DNR's 2009-2018
White-tailed Deer Plan (this is a PDF document) says:
"Effective deer management aims for a deer population level that
will maintain a healthy environment and strike an
acceptable balance between people and deer. It's a complex
challenge that requires balancing biological, political and social
That is as good a description as any of your challenge in the Oh
Deer! eForum, because deer management has rarely achieved the
balancing act described above - and the deer population is out of control
in many areas.
(Note: this is a Flash presentation so you
need Flash to run it. It is 1 MB; if you have a dial-up
connection it will take a few minutes to download.)
How abundant are
Over abundant deer are a problem for forests, for agriculture, in
the country, and even in towns. In general, populations
greater than 15 -20 per square mile can cause problems. You
will learn more about deer density issues further below. But
first, take a look at
this interactive map from the Quality Deer Management
Association of the "deer density per square mile" for
the entire United States. See is you can find how many deer
there are in the area where you live. In general, where are
deer densities less than 15 per square mile? Greater than 15?
Greater than 45? The numbers can get quite high. For
example, using WV Division of Natural Resources buck kill numbers, the
white-tail population in the West Virginia's Lost River watershed was
estimated at about 67 per square mile in 1998.
On a related point, the Quality Deer Management Association also has
an interesting article titled:
Density vs. Sightability. It answers the
question: "As deer density increases do we always see more deer, and
do we always see fewer deer as it decreases?"
2005 Oh Deer! eForum, a
number of WV students mentioned that the deer population seemed to be
getting smaller. The graph showing data on the buck harvest in
select WV counties since 1995 would support their
What could cause that change? WVDNR
wildlife biologists had predicted an increase for 2004, but larger
than expected harvest declines may have been caused by the record
antlerless deer harvest in 2002. The decline might be also
have been due to several years of poor acorn production, or bad
weather in the first three days of the season may have
out of the woods (Moorefield Examiner, Dec 18, 2004). Severe winters may have reduced the number of fawns carried to term, or caused
increased over-winter mortality in the deer herd.
Whatever the cause - is this a trend? A cyclic variation?
Or something else? WVDNR uses the buck harvest to estimate the
total deer population; to learn more about how WV DNR does it, click
Try using the web to find the number of bucks harvested and the
total area in square miles of in your
county, and then use WVDNR's formula to estimate the total deer population
per square mile in your county. We did it in the above graph,
and you can to.
Deer Kill, 1947to 2007
Mt. Vista Governors School
prepared by the The
Truffula Farmers and Barbaloot Hunters of
Mountain Vista Governors School during the 2008 Oh
5. What problems are caused
by deer overpopulation?
Section 5 Worksheet
Over abundant deer cause problems for forests, farmers, homeowners,
watersheds, and the deer themselves.
of Forestry in Pennsylvania has this to say: "White-tailed deer
populations in excess of 20 per square mile are common in many areas
of state forest land and such populations are largely responsible
for the lack of woody and herbaceous regeneration. Deer exclusion fence
studies have documented that deer populations of 16 per square mile
or less allow regeneration of woody and herbaceous species to occur,
thus preserving the species diversity present in the forest when
normal bureau harvesting activities occur."
Here's the link
to the full report. The
for Deer and Forests website a very clear, visual presentation about deer
impacts on forest health (highly recommended).
Consulting Forester and
describes the changes he has personally observed
West Virginia forests, due to
excessive deer population,
over the past 25 years.
You can learn
much more about the ecosystem
impacts of overabundant deer and
the challenges of controlling them
here. (Note: the first link is to Audubon Pennsylvania's major
Deer in Forest Habitat From an Ecosystem Perspective; we
suggest you start with the Executive Summary to this report.)
at West Virginia University
found that deer foraging threatens the survival of ginseng, a
medicinal plant that lives on our forest floor and generates more
than $2 million in income annually for harvesters. More
details from the researcher is
here. When the lead researcher involved in that project
was interviewed on National Public Radio about their results, he
made the startling statement that we need to restore major
predators, such as wolves and mountain lions, to protect our forests
from overgrazing by deer. Why would he be willing to go on
national radio and say something so controversial? You can
find some clues
here. This story was covered by all the major media,
William Grafton (West Virginia University)
describes how deer impact the viability of
in West Virginia. Use
for an excellent piece on the impacts of deer on agriculture in New
The economic impacts of overabundant
deer are staggering.
a very good overview.
Deer have many impacts in suburbia.
provides a fine overview of the problems and a number of possible
solutions. It's easy to find more information on this topic
using Google. Try it.
Deer as a Watershed Problem.
Institute is a member of the West Virginia Potomac Tributary
Strategy Implementation Team (WVPTS). Our challenge is
to promote land management practices in West Virginia that protect
our local rivers and also the Chesapeake Bay. One of the most
important things that landowners can do is grow "buffers" along the
edges of streams on their land. Buffers consist of
un-mowed grasses or forests that filter pollutants before they can
reach the stream. Some of our WVPTS projects are Riparian
Forest Demonstration Projects, where we planted trees along the South Branch of the Potomac and
Cacapon rivers and are monitoring the results. Click
here for a project overview, and then click
here for first year
results and here
for second year results. As you see, deer are an overwhelming
problem. Cacapon Institute is
conducting an experiment, successful so far, to see if we can increase the success
of the plantings. Thousands of miles of these riparian buffers
are being planted throughout the Bay watershed - what matters is not
that the trees are planted, but that they actually grow into
riverside forests. Cacapon Institute Director and
forest changes caused by deer may impact water quantity.
6. Deer Control
Section 6 Worksheet
Before the colonization of the Eastern United States by
Europeans, natural deer predators like wolves and mountain lions
were abundant. They interacted with the deer population to
maintain a healthy ecosystem. To get a sense for what that
here is a repeat of the link about wolf restoration in
Yellowstone National Park.
In the absence
control of the deer population is left to human actions both
intentional (like hunting) and accidental (car-deer interactions),
as well as disease.
about top Pennsylvania wildlife biologist Gary Alt will
provide a sense of the challenges. Mr. Alt is now a former PA DNR employee - he quit because they wouldn't aggressively face the
deer problem and is now working independently with other groups
trying to address overpopulation.
an article from Audubon Magazine, "Public Menace", about the
challenges of controlling deer in Pennsylvania that tells the Alt
story in detail. Highly recommended!
WV Division of Natural Resources offers suggestions for controlling
agricultural damage from deer
here, discusses deer management to protect habitat
fundamentals of deer management and estimating deer populations
here. Pennsylvania is leading the way in using fencing to
help regenerate forests; read about that
and then see if you can find more information about deer
fencing on the web. Here is an interesting
Washington Post article on hunting in the suburbs as an
effective way to control deer.
in suburbia were mentioned above. The challenges of
deer control in developed areas are complicated by the presence of
large numbers of people.
repeated from above, provides an overview of possible solutions for
suburbia, such as
contraception, fences, sharpshooters, and repellants. An interesting and entertaining read from the
peer reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin on the issue of deer
contraception and understanding stakeholders is his article
"Urban deer contraception:
the seven stages of grief" (784KB, PDF) (The Wildlife
Society Bulletin, 1997, 25(2))
7. About now you probably think we hate
deer. We don't.
They are beautiful animals that play an
essential role in our ecosystem, and provide pleasure of many kinds
to many people. The problem is ours. The New York Times
published an editorial on March 30, 2005 that said it very
"Deer are simply heeding
the biological imperative to go forth and multiply. With no
natural predators, and the suburbs a year-round salad bar, they
have slipped out of their ecological niche - and it's our fault,
not theirs. The deer did not ask human beings to create the kind
of predator-free suburban landscapes in which they now thrive.
But the mountain lion, gray wolf and bobcat are not about to
return, and the houses and highways are staying put. People,
therefore, must own up to their place in a compromised food
chain, and assume the responsibility for managing it well.
contradict our innate assumption that only ugly creatures can be
vermin. As the recent release of the "Bambi" DVD reminds us,
they seem miscast as villains. But wise conservation means
looking at the environment as a whole - from the smallest
wildflower on forest floor to the biggest brown-eyed herbivore.
The whole system - not just the prettiest mammals - needs