Forest Regeneration Myth
June 15, 2015
PGC is now using
a single circumstance – a ploy – in an attempt to justify
the agency's deer-reduction program and to halt resolution
of the deer-reduction program: using fenced exclosures to
demonstrate that deer eat seedlings and that forest vegetation
will increase in the absence of deer.
• A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
article and picture reported how a local women's garden club
was shocked to see more seedlings inside the fenced area than
• State legislators
and PGC's own Board of Commissioners are routinely driven
to deer exclosures in order to demonstrate denser vegetation
inside deer exclosures.
Using this technique,
PGC is able to demonstrate to laymen that deer eat vegetation.
However, so, too, do cattle in a pasture. If cattle were fenced
out of the pasture, certainly it could be demonstrated that
the grass would grow taller with more abundant wildflowers.
However, the impact to the rancher would be catastrophic –
the cattle would die and so would his ranch. Instead, the
rancher manages the number of cattle on his pasture (or range)
to produce the maximum number of cattle on a sustainable basis
over time without destroying the grass-producing health of
the pasture. This process is called "maximum sustained
yield", and has been successfully used for generations
in agriculture and wildlife management throughout America.
It should be noted
that whereas PGC is attempting to justify the drastic and
permanent reduction of Pennsylvania's dominant herbivore on
the premise that deer eat forest vegetation, then it seems
possible that this same simple premise could be applied toward
eliminating other dominant herbivores from their respective
ecosystems – such as caribou from the tundra, moose from boreal
forests, elk from the Rocky Mountain West, bison from the
Great Plains, and even elephants from the African savannah.
All of these dominant herbivores eat more vegetation per day
than deer, and if they were eliminated, then does PGC's fallacious
line of reasoning suggest that there would be a healthier
and happier ecosystem? Would large predators then become the
next targets of such a nonsensical premise of environmental
ideologues? According to PGC's premise, an ideologue, fringe
environmentalist, developer, or unscrupulous person could
use this deceptive and unscientific approach to eliminate
any animal from its natural environment.
THE SCIENCE OF REGENERATION.
Unabated seedling regeneration in the absence of dominant
herbivores (especially deer) in the forest ecosystem becomes
increasing detrimental and scientifically counterproductive
as the number and density of tree seedlings increases. Uncontrolled
regeneration increases seedling competition for light, nutrients,
water, and living space – choking out the forest and resulting
in an unhealthy ecosystem that is susceptible to forest diseases
Only about 120-250
advanced tree seedlings per acre are normally required to
produce a next generation of healthy northern hardwood forests
that will contain 80-120 trees per acre at maturity. Instead,
PGC is attempting to deceive citizens, legislators, and its
own BOC with the idea that unabated seedling regeneration
(that could be as high as tens-of-thousands or even hundreds-of-thousands
of seedlings per acre) is a normal condition of a healthy,
forest ecosystem. This is, of course, not the case.
As an example, a
single large oak tree has the potential to produce 80,000
acorns (and thus 80,000 seedlings if left uneaten and unbrowsed)
in a given year. Considering that a fully stocked forest could
support 100 or more mature oaks per acre, if left unabated
to regenerate without thinning by herbivores and seed-eaters
(such as happens inside a deer exclosure), this single acre
has the potential to regenerate 8,000,000 seedlings per acre
in a single year. Over the course of an oak's lifetime, such
unabated and astronomical regeneration would likely quickly
stunt the growth-rate and health of the forest for both plants
and animals. Remember that it only takes a single acorn over
the course of an oak's lifetime to restock the oak. All other
regeneration is excess that is used for food and cover for
deer and other wildlife.
as deer, mice and small mammals, rabbits, and furbearers consume
excess vegetation and seeds. Even songbirds eat seeds, including
acorns, toward creating a natural balance in the ecosystem
between regeneration and wildlife.
PGC has disrupted
this natural balance by eliminating Pennsylvania's dominant
herbivore, white-tailed deer, in an attempt to satisfy the
wishes of foresters and fringe environmentalists – many of
whom simply harbor distain for the sport of hunting.
In reality, forest
regeneration has two scientific purposes:
(1) to restock a next generation of forests.
(2) to provide habitat (food and cover) for wildlife – including
deer, other game, and nongame species of birds and mammals.
since first cutting our virgin forests over 100 years ago
Pennsylvania has produced some of the world's finest hardwood
forests. This has continued for generations to the present.
habitat, for generations Pennsylvania forests have supported
diverse populations of wildlife. For decades prior to herd
reduction, the commonwealth was recognized as one of the top
two deer-hunting states in the nation, had up to 1.3 million
hunters, and was a recreational haven for bird-watchers and
had never been a problem with forest seedling regeneration
that was caused by deer – not for restocking a next generation
of forests, and not for wildlife habitat.
Deer reduction represents
the greatest conservation mistake in the history of the Game
Commission. It was caused by a single forester in DCNR and
an environmental ideologue who took advantage of a 1998 German-based
Green Certification opportunity and acted on an emotional
whim – without a prior cost/benefit analysis and without scientific
verification. A 2012 government study by the Legislative Budget
and Finance Committee discovered that PGC's deer-reduction
program was caused by DCNR's green certification program.
Both programs were proven to be based on politics instead
of science, and are dismal failures. As a result, PGC is now
attempting to justify deer reduction by using deer exclosures
to demonstrate that deer eat vegetation. While PGC might be
successful in impressing some laymen and garden clubs with
this unscientific myth, their desperate premise has little
relevance regarding the realities of a functioning, healthy