Friday, January 28, 2022

Too many deer


2009 data. Numbers in the Lower Peninsula are higher now.
The Upper Peninsula has wolves and severe winters.

The antlerless harvest dropped significantly between 2009 and 2021. It is not that there are fewer deer but that hunters are not inclined to shoot them. It is a "man card" thing.

A mature doe can pop out two fawns a year. Half of those will be does and ALL of them will be legally "antlerless". A large majority of the deer running around during hunting season are antlerless. A deer density of 40 per-square-mile could easily sustain a harvest of 10-to-15 antlerless deer a year. The ten-year-trailing-average has been 4 antlerless deer per square mile. That number is not healthy from a population or range-health standpoint.

Locally, the buck population bounced up when one of the local poachers went to his eternal reward a few years ago. Of course he only shot bucks. We also have encroaching urbanization. New neighbors see deer as mobile lawn ornaments and hate when anybody shoots "their" deer.

One subtlety in deer population is that in areas with significant agriculture the deer will congregate in areas with cover and the browsing pressure is far higher than the 2.5 deer per 40 acres that 40 deer per square mile implies.

That can make it very difficult to establish plants. Even if you plant species that are not attractive to deer, every deer that walks past that plant will take one nibble.

Habitat management

These issues popped up when I did a winter woods walk on my property.

I planted much of the area I wanted to be woods in fast-growing pioneer species like hybrid poplar and Black Locust. I also planted some exotics that proved to not be long-lived.

Those short-lived species are dying off and there are patches where there is a dearth of desirable trees that will replace them.

Leaving a legacy

I am of an age where I want to leave a legacy. I want to plant trees that will be here 100, 200 or even 300 years from now. I know I cannot control the future from the grave but I can at least stack the deck in favor of that kind of legacy.

My list of requirements are:

  • Potential for most specimens to live 100 or more years
  • Produces mast in the fall or winter
  • Has the potential to produce high-value timber
  • Is not browsed by deer
  • Is tolerant to shade
  • Is tolerant to fire
The bad news is that I have not found a species that meets ALL of the requirements.

Candidates that crush the first three requirements are
"Red Oaks" have pointed or bristly tips on their leaves

"White Oaks" rounded tips, almost like the end of your finger.

  • Red Oak species with +100 year "legs". Red Oaks have pointed 
  • Black Walnut and Hickory 200 year legs
  • White Oak species at 300 year legs
The deer browse requirement has two facets. One is whether deer find it tasty the other is how quickly the sapling will grow up, out of reach of the deer. It may be totally unrealistic to expect saplings growing in partial shade to grow fast enough to escape the deer. That forces me into temporary fencing.

Shade tolerance is a funny thing. Seedlings that are less than two feet tall are more shade tolerant than taller seedlings/saplings. It may be due to the higher CO2 concentration near the forest floor where organic material is decaying. These seedlings can smolder for decades, waiting for an opening in the canopy. Then they explode in their growth. Of course, I can create holes in the canopy. I have a chainsaw.

Image credit Daniel Dey, Richard Guyette, and Michael Stambaugh

The Native-Americans regularly burned the forest floor to keep it free of brush, thorn-bush, ticks and to keep it open and breezy.

Most urban people who learned about nature by watching Bambi are clueless. Eaton County was burned on a ten-to-fifteen year frequency. We have a "Plains Highway" so named because passed through tall-grass prairie when the settlers were naming things. Other evidence is are that some areas are very rich in tree species that are intimately tied to frequent burns: Bur Oak, Black Oak, Sassafras, Hazelnut and so on.

Not surprisingly, the most frequently burned areas stretched in the direction of the prevailing winds and seemed to originate on water-ways where prime village sites were located.

The winners
Bur Oak (White Oak type): 300 year legs, fire resistant bark, moderate shade tolerance and can produce heavy acorn crops

Persimmon: 100 year legs, suckers after a fire, high shade tolerance, heavy fruit production most years. Fruit that hangs on into the winter. Poor timber potential.

Shellbark Hickory: 200 year legs, modest resistance to fire, medium-high shade tolerance as a sapling, can produce heavy crops of easy-to-crack hickory nuts. Bark used by bats for roosting. Grows faster when grafted on pecan rootstock.

Honorable Mention
Northern Pecans
Northern Red Oak, Cherrybark Oak, Shumard Oak, Nuttall Oak, Northern Pin Oak
Chinese X American chestnut hybrids
Beech (very vulnerable to fire)
Yellow Buckeye

The plan
The plan is to create fenced areas 3' in diameter and heavily sow persimmons seeds/seedlings and/or pecan seednuts. Then I will thin to the most vigorous survivors and attempt to graft the pecan seedings to Shellbark Hickories. If the grafts all fail, well, I will just have to settle for pecan trees.

I will thin out the canopy to get some sunlight hitting the forest floor.

I would plant more Bur Oak but I am already "heavy" on that species and do not want to be vulnerable to pests and diseases. I am also heavy on Black Walnut and BW can raise hob with apple trees and spruce trees that are in the vicinity.

As always, comments are open and I would love to have readers point out species that I overlooked.

Hat-tip to True Blue Sam for providing suggestions and technical advice for this post.


  1. As much as I love trees, you're way beyond me on this stuff!

    I know the trees we have planted here, but that's about it....

  2. Elzéard Bouffier is my friend.

  3. Civilization depends on men planting trees in whose shade they'll never sit.
    I plaigerized that but I don't remember who from. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it's true.

  4. ERJ, Family memory runs through the my mother to my great-great grandfather to me. One of the stories she remembers my Great Aunt (her grandfather) telling her is that the Native Americans of the area set fires in the forest and one of the results was that the acorns did not have worms, whereas the places were they were not set did. As that particular memory runs pretty close to when settlers actually were appearing in numbers, I tend to believe it.

  5. What about some fruit tree's in addition to persimmons? Wild black cherry? For giggles, why not try grafting some unusual combinations? Some future traveller may stumble on an apple tree in a clearing with 6 kinds of apples growing? Plant the tree's in arrangements, shapes, patterns.
    No conifers? Sequoia? Cypress? Love me some Ironwood (hophornbeam)..
    What about shrubbery? Service berry and chokeberries, etc... Wildlife is more than just deer.

    1. Sequoia and cypress are interesting proposals. Sequoia is very fire resistant and Bald Cypress is deciduous.

      Most of my "woods" are 65' wide wildlife corridors. In cross-section they are mound-shaped.

      I have shrubs and soft-mast trees like mulberries, apples and brambles on the edges because they tend to be shorter and sun-lovers. Keeping on the edges also means the leaves dry quickly and they are less susceptible to diseases.

      Wild black cherry is common in the neighborhood and I am trying to compliment existing local resources. That is, beef-up the bottlenecks.

      I do have some conifers but have been reducing them. I have Eastern White Pine, Norway Spruce and White Spruce. I also have a few Red Cedar (Juniper) volunteering but I eradicate that because it is the alternate host for cedar-apple rust. My reason for reducing the Norway Spruce is that they provide 365 days of heavy shade on the forest floor and nothing interesting will grow beneath them.

      I can post some pictures if you have any specific interests.

    2. Inwould be interested in seeing some pics. I purchased some seedlings from a place near you:

      They provided quality products, albeit shipping to TN was pricey. One of the sequoias and 2 cypress are still struggling to make it, but they all arrived alive and well. Local fauna did a number on them.
      Like you, I think about future generations getting to enjoy their shade.

  6. I planted about 50 white pine on my property 25 years ago, after removing invasive species trees. They grow about a foot a year, except for the ones whose sunlight is blocked by the poplars. I'll not see them as 100 footers, but hopefully my grandkids will.

  7. Out of the 100/300 year growth of oaks, how many years of acorn production do you get?

  8. You could also 'ring' some trees (remove bark on all sides of tree, killing it in place but allowing it to remain standing. Leaves fall off and provide growth underneath to receive the otherwise blocked sunlight. The standing tree would also provide birds perching space (which would propagate different species from the seedlings they drop in their poop). When the tree finally does fall, the wood can be piled together, providing cover for rabbit and other small animals (including poisonous snakes so be aware of that as well).

    So you would be able to shape your woods opening where and how you rather easily.