Are hunters becoming an endangered species?

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Articles in last Sunday’s “Opelika-Auburn News” dealt with white-tailed deer in Alabama and states that the Black Belt is reporting “one of the best seasons in years.” Judging from the number of deer I’ve been seeing around my home place, deer hunters in my neck of the woods must be few and far between. On “my dirt road” where it crosses the creek, I often see deer, sometimes three or four at a time. A few days ago, there was a group of at least five browsing in the woods in back of my house.
A newsletter from the Alabama Forest Owners Association stated that the number of hunters in Alabama was decreasing, and that the decrease may be the result of “excessive regulations.” I talked with Fred Harters with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who confirmed that the numbers of hunters, and of fishermen, were declining, but that excessive regulations were not the cause. He surmised that many young people now are more interested in sitting on their duffs fooling with their smartphones and other electronic gadgets than they are in engaging in outdoor recreational sports.
I did some research and found that an estimated 1.8 million deer inhabit the state, an increase of more than a hundredfold in the last 60 years. Reportedly, Alabama has the second largest number of deer than any other state; Texas has the most. Our state’s average is 34.3 deer per square mile, or one for every 19 acres.
Deer problems are of increasing concern. In the nation, within the past five years, there have been 14,203 automobile collisions with animals, 95 of which involved deer. A report by the Ala. Dept. of Public Safety revealed that collisions with deer in the state caused 1,248 injuries to passengers in recent years, 14 of which were fatal. Insurance claims amounted to $76 million. Between 1990 and 1999, there were 300 airplane-deer collisions in the country,  six of which occurred in Alabama.
An article written by Mike Bolton, which appeared in the Jan. 28, 2001 edition of the “Birmingham News,” reported that Charles D. Kelley, head of the State Game and Fish Division of the DCNR for 39 years, had some unfortunate encounters with deer. Following his retirement, Kelley moved to Elmore County, where, within a 11-month period, his car hit and killed three deer on separate occasions, damaging his car each time. In another incident, he swerved to miss five deer in the road, and wrecked and destroyed his car. Kelley was quoted as saying, “People are joking that I spent my life bringing deer to Alabama, and now I’m trying to kill them all.”
Bolton wrote that in some counties, collisions with deer had reached dramatic levels. He quoted a State Farm Insurance agent in Selma who said that vehicle collisions with deer in his area accounted for up to 70 to 80 percent of vehicle accident claims. A Chevrolet dealer in Wetumpka told him, “The majority of cars that people bring in for repairs are the result of collisions with deer. We see an average of five to six per week.”
Suburban developments often attract deer. Upscale developments are often situated near forests where deer are abundant. Bolton said, “ When expensive homes are built, tender grasses and flowers are sure to follow, and deer see these as high-class restaurants.” Liberty Park south of Birmingham had been especially targeted by deer. One resident planted pansies, and a few days later, deer had consumed them, flowers, leaves, and roots.
In 2010, 337,000 deer were harvested in Alabama by hunters. Coyotes are known to prey on deer, but no one knows with any degree of certainty how many are killed by coyotes. Limited research suggests that the number is substantial. Hunting pressure, by itself, is insufficient to control the population, but coyotes may prove to be helpful in maintaining deer numbers at acceptable levels.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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