Friday, January 17, 2014

Humans & White-tailed Deer

Earlier this week, I watched an episode of Nature on PBS, dedicated to the interactions of humans and white-tailed deer and focused primarily on a town in Upstate New York.  While the show provided a good deal of information on deer anatomy and behavior, it could not avoid the Disneyesque approach that has begun to characterize most scientific programming.  Indeed, the title of the segment was "The Private Lives of Deer" (or something similar).

Appropriate emphasis was placed on the exploding white-tail population, a phenomenon directly related to human-induced deforestation and the sprawl of suburban developments; only glancing reference was made to the lack of natural predators and there was no discussion regarding man's decimation of those carnivores.  Most of the episode was focused on human response to and interaction with the local deer herd, having citizens use video cameras to record their observations.  Amazingly, while complaints from suburbanites about the damage that deer inflict on their flower beds and shrubbery is widespread in America, the residents of this community were relatively sanguine about their impact.  One might accept this as a refreshing human response to the instinctive behavior of wildlife or an editorial effort to deliver a positive story.

As a naturalist, I was most disappointed that little if any discussion was directed toward the ecologic impact of deer overpopulation.  While segments of the program were devoted to the rescue of an abandoned fawn and the "spiritual image" of an albino deer, the serious problem of deer-auto collisions was mentioned only in passing and there was no discussion about the negative impacts of white-tail overpopulation on other species or on the health of the deer themselves.  Finally, there was no mention of efforts to confront this problem (i.e. expanded hunting seasons, contraception measures, predator reintroduction, etc.).  In the end, it was an upbeat show that seemed to pay little attention to a worsening environmental problem.