Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Newport News Park (3/24/2015)

In his essays on conservation ethics Aldo Leopold wrote about how the removal of predators from the landscape was detrimental to nature.  The removal of the wolf in the western US by ranchers to protect their sheep eventually led to an explosion in the mule deer population and tremendous over grazing by the deer which resulted in a decreased food supply for the sheep and an eventual decline in income for the ranchers.  (Yes, I already wrote about this, but it is worth repeating.) It is amazing how interconnected our life is with the natural world.   It is even more amazing how humans now reached a stage where we can influence and alter the natural wold as opposed to the natural world impacting us.

I have seen this as well.  In the late 1990s, I conducted some research in Valley Forge National Park and noticed how small the deer were.  I am not sure if it was caused by malnutrition or whether evolution was at work here.  What I do know that the National Park is completely surrounded by residential areas, which have forced the deer into a smaller and smaller area to find their food.  Naturally,  they do browse in the neighborhoods, but it seems that they most likely consume native landscape plants while they leave a lot of the exotics alone.  With the lack of hunting and predators the deer population in the park must have exploded resulting in a lack of food.  Either the deer a scrawny because of that, but given enough time you can expect that there will be an evolutionary pressure for smaller deer that can survive and thrive on less food.  But mature deer in the park looked like they were miniaturized, or as I called them bonsai deer; mature deer stood two to three feet tall.

Zoom in on today's picture.  In my opinion we are creating a similar issue in Newport Nes Park as I encountered in Valley Forge.   We are allowing the deer population to increase without culling by predators or through hunting.  Deer have so overgrazed the park that most palatable plants have been pushed out.  In addition to the overgrazing the lack of forest management has resulted in a dense leaf bed through which very few plants can germinate.  As a result we have very little understory and the only plants that remain in the understory are unpalatable to the deer.  Deer are now invading our neighborhood.

That brings me to idyllic picture of a doe and her fawn.  It was around night fall and they were slowly migrating towards our yards for their evening meals.

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