South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources biologists have been telling us for a while that our deer numbers were dropping, and it’s starting to show.
The agency just released results from its 2012 Deer Hunter Survey, which shows a 4 percent decrease in harvest by hunters. According to numbers compiled by Charles Ruth, state deer and turkey project coordinator, 116,673 bucks were taken this past year along with 101,181 does.
These numbers are estimated by surveys sent out to 25,000 licensed deer hunters. The answers are used in a computer modeling program which recreates a population model. This method came into use in 1997, after it was determined check stations weren’t providing accurate figures.
“The old way of documenting the deer harvest had flaws including failure to report harvested deer and the fact that there was no reporting required in many cases,” Ruth said in a statement. “Based on the survey work that’s been done since 1997, it appears that the old system was documenting only about half of the deer being harvested annually in South Carolina, which is exactly why DNR is now using the survey technique.”
Although our statewide deer population exploded during the 1970s and 1980s, it has reversed and fallen steadily during the past decade, according to Ruth.
Sadly, these harvest numbers show this trend is continuing and we now have 30 percent fewer deer roaming the Palmetto State than in 2002.
Biologists attribute this decline to several factors, but the first was habitat change. It was activities related to timber management that stimulated population growth 30 to 40 years back, but those stands of trees are now grown to a point that they don’t allow sunlight to hit the forest floor.
Without it, low level growth doesn’t occur, meaning the natural browse that the deer rely on for food doesn’t exist, and these lands can no longer sustain the same number of animals.
The most recent factor to have a devastating result on our deer numbers came in the way of a non-native intruder.
Coyotes are decimating the deer herd and a joint study between DNR and researchers at the Savannah River Site has proven it. While investigating the potential damage brought on by these nasty little devils, the experts found that coyotes’ harmful effects were even greater than first imagined.
This first three years of research found that 70 percent of all fawns born do not survive and a whopping 80 percent of those lost were taken by coyotes. This second three-year phase of the study is looking at whether or not trapping, killing and other methods of coyote control have any chance of increasing the rate of fawn survival.
When you factor in everything that’s working against our state’s deer herd and the liberal harvest allowed, we’re fighting a losing battle.
Thus, hunters are the final factor.
The majority of hunters support reducing the number of deer each hunter is allowed to take annually. But, for whatever reason, legislators ignore these wishes.
It’s not a surprise considering legislator also ignore the cold hard facts provided to them by their own state agency.
This is simply proof of how backward things operate in South Carolina. After all, there’s not a single elected official in Columbia who is qualified to make sound biological decisions when it comes to such issues regarding our natural resources. Plenty of other states handle it differently by allowing their wildlife agencies to adjust regulations “on the fly” and as needed.
One argument for keeping the status quo came from a member of the House of Representatives hailing from the Lowcountry. He made an arrogant statement that basically said, Lawmakers make laws and biologists make recommendations. That’s all well and good as long as those lawmakers have enough common sense to understand they must act quickly upon those suggestions because time is of the essence and they’re clueless on the subject.
This way in which our state operates in regards to game laws is about as flawed as it can get. Since the DNR is a state agency that operates on state money, what state lawmakers are doing can easily be compared to a person going to a doctor then telling the doctor the diagnosis.
It’s time for all outdoorsmen to band together.
DNR boat inspections
As they do each year, DNR’s Law Enforcement Division will conduct courtesy safety inspections at various public boat landings across the state.
Officers will perform a quick and thorough inspection of vessels to ensure they are safe, legally registered and in compliance with all safety regulations such as the proper number of approved flotation devices.
Boaters found not meeting the lawful requirements won’t be ticketed but, instead, allowed to correct any issues raised by the inspection.
Locally, the inspection will be available from noon to 2 p.m. May 27 at the Ebenezer Park landing on Lake Wylie.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors