2015-12-09 / Gardening Tips / Columns

Gardening Tips: December 9, 2015

Oh Deer!
by Bob Beyfuss

It is hard to believe that in less than a month we will be writing 2016 on our checks and calendar dates. Where on earth did 2015 go so quickly? I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoyed at least some of the fruits and vegetables of your own labor. It may very well be purely psychological, but in my mind, my homegrown food tastes far better than any food I have purchased. I am currently enjoying my canned tomato sauce, stew- ed tomatoes, canned peaches, and other homemade goodies (jams and jellies) that my neighbors and friends have given me. Pure maple syrup made from local sugar maple trees is another one of my greatest treats to enjoy in the winter.

One of my very favorite meats is venison, topped only by wild turkey! In New York it is, of course, illegal to buy or sell venison that is wild harvested. I realize that there are some good reasons why that is so, but most of the reasons are designed to protect the deer herd from being exploited by market hunters. Well, in some places in New York the deer herd has destroyed much of the local, native flora that preceded both the deer and us humans. We have eliminated most of the deer’s native predators, which makes us responsible for this situation and “protecting” deer comes with a price that often fails to protect the plants that I consider as important as the deer are. Personally, I would also much rather see a deer sold to someone who will eat it, then have the meat wasted. Far too many deer carcasses end up being garbage instead of healthy, nutritious food!

Venison for Sale, Instead of Wasted?

Venison is about as “organic” and “sustainable” as any food could ever possibly be. It is also far more nutritious than factoryfarmed beef or pork or chicken. If a city hunter, whose family has no desire to eat the meat, could sell his or her legally harvested deer, it might help to offset the cost of a typical hunt. Deer hunting is not a cheap pastime for people who travel here from New Jersey or Long Island. I seriously think that the DEC needs to revisit these regulations. For the most part they are a throwback to an era that no longer exists. Currently, deer may be donated to local food pantries by butchers, bringing the hunter nothing, but the meat must be rendered into chopped meat first. This is like taking the finest prime rib of beef and turning it into hamburger! Let people who can afford it, buy a back strap or some medallions to enjoy them as the fine cuts of meat they are.

I don’t have the least concern that deer will ever be wiped out by regulated hunting, but I am concerned that certain plants, including my favorite woodland plant, American ginseng, will indeed be exterminated by white tailed deer. I have personally seen this happen many times in woodlots throughout the Catskill Region. Places that should harbor ginseng, do not and it is not because it has been dug out. It has been browsed out. Deer, like raccoons and rats, have become very successful cohabitating with humans to the point where they make it almost impossible to grow some ornamental plants or fruit trees or shrubs without requiring great effort to protect them. It is hard to have a vegetable garden to grow some of your own food when the local deer prefer to eat it before you do!

We expend huge amounts of resources trying to get rid of invasive plants in our forests, but in many cases the reason why there are so many invasive plants, is because deer don’t eat them. Deer do not browse on garlic mustard, Asiatic barberry, Japanese honeysuckle, Oriental bittersweet, Autumn olive and so many other invasive species. It is not only ginseng, but plants such as trilliums, orchids, many species of ferns, violets, and so many others that literally disappear from a woodlot when deer are overly plentiful. If you like maple syrup, you must realize that sugar maple trees are required to produce it. When deer numbers are high enough, there will be no young sugar maple trees present nor will there be oaks.

Conservation means “wise use,” not “protect as is” and I think we need to rethink that whole concept.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2015-12-09 digital edition