A Hunter Helps With Island’s Deer Problem

Earlier this year my wife and I were thinking about buying an old farmhouse on Vashon Island, in central Puget Sound, to raise our two boys.

The house was a fixer upper on all three floors, but sat on about 3 acres of woods (and nettles) and small lawn with another 10 acres of nothing but trees (and more nettles) to its south.

I poked around online to figure out who the owners of the woodlot were. My interest, of course, was in getting permission from them to hunt it.

I’d have to learn to shoot a bow, but heck, with WDFW’s second blacktail permit for Vashon, two deer a year in the freezer seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

And talk about low food miles from field to plate — it would be carbon-free meat if I could snake my wheelbarrow through the trees.

Ah, daydreams, daydreams.

We eventually bought elsewhere (the only game I’ve seen there is the PGA Seniors Open at Sahalee on TV and possibly a bandtail pigeon), but Vashon and its deer are the subject of an article in today’s Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.

Islanders contend there are more deer than ever this year, and though WDFW doesn’t have any way to back that claim up, car-collision stats seem to be up this year.

There are worries too that deer are changing the island’s ecosystem with their browsing.

Tom Dean, director of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, has seen increased deer browsing harm young native plant species. “That’s worrisome,” he said. “That’s a problem for other species that may depend on those.”

An explosion in deer population can ultimately change the Island’s ecology, Dean said. For instance, he said, deer are likely to blame for the decline in native cottonwood trees along Shinglemill Creek, which ultimately affects the salmon that spawn there.

David Warren, head of Vashon Forest Stewards, echoed Dean when he expressed frustration at the deer’s grazing of young native species such as cottonwood, dogwood, alder and cedar, grazing that thwarts already difficult reforestation efforts on Vashon.

“People buy young seedlings that are a year or two old and they plant them in the woods, and the deer destroy a lot of those,” he said. “When they eat the top, it stunts the trees and kills them.”

Warren added that bucks will even destroy 5- to 7-year-old trees by rubbing their antlers on them. “That’s a problem, if there are no new trees coming up, you’re not generating new forest,” he said.

Reestablishing forests that were clear cut in the early 1900s or are reaching the end of their lifetime is especially critical to maintaining the Island’s aquifer, Warren said. “They create a sponge and soak up the water instead of allowing it to run into the Sound,” he said.

What to do about it?

Well, the article mentions that sterilization is right out as too costly, and trapping deer wouldn’t be easy.

So in the meanwhile, protect your plants and consider calling Brad Shride, the local salmon guide whom I’ve fished with in the past, and who, full disclosure, advertises in Northwest Sportsman from time to time.

“For the most part I would say people are positive about hunters who come and use their property and keep the deer population down,” he said.

Though Shride can’t help everyone who calls him, he said it’s never difficult to find places to hunt when the season begins in the fall.

“It’s a win-win situation; I get to harvest their deer and they get them off their property,” he said.

The thing to do, in these polarized times, would be to profess shock at such open talk of hunting as help for modern-day wildlife problems,

But it is a newspaper article, after all, not the editorial board’s opinion (though the editor could have stricken that bit).

And like a newspaper article, it notes that coyotes and bobcats have again been seen on the island, and might also help with deer control (more likely, Fifi and Fufu control).

We’ll see how the online comments progress, but in the meanwhile, a good read that shows once you get free of the fringes’ hyperbole, there’s room in the middle for hunters and nonhunters.

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One Response to “A Hunter Helps With Island’s Deer Problem”

  1. Luke Tormanen Says:

    I think you should give out more hunting permits.

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