Is hunting an effective tool to control overabundant deer? A test using an experimental approach

Authors

  • M. Anouk Simard,

    Corresponding author
    1. NSERC-Produits Forestiers Anticosti Industrial Research Chair, Département de biologie, Centre d'études nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada
    • NSERC-Produits Forestiers Anticosti Industrial Research Chair, Département de biologie, Centre d'études nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada
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  • Christian Dussault,

    1. Direction générale de l'expertise sur la faune et ses habitats, Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, Québec, QC G1S 4X4, Canada
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  • Jean Huot,

    1. NSERC-Produits Forestiers Anticosti Industrial Research Chair, Département de biologie, Centre d'études nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada
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  • Steeve D. Côté

    1. NSERC-Produits Forestiers Anticosti Industrial Research Chair, Département de biologie, Centre d'études nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada
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  • Associate Editor: Gary White

Abstract

Overabundant populations of cervids have induced drastic negative effects on plant communities in several regions worldwide. Antlerless deer harvest by sport hunters has been proposed as a potential solution to overabundance because the philopatric behavior of female deer is expected to limit recolonization of hunted zones. The efficiency of this method, however, has rarely been tested in the wild. Using a large-scale experimental design, we reduced white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) density within 5 20-km2 areas on Anticosti Island (Québec, Canada). Our objective was to harvest 50% of antlerless deer in each site during the first year of the study in 2002, and 30% from 2003 to 2006. We monitored deer density, vegetation abundance and growth as well as deer life-history traits during 6 years in these experimental sites and in 5 control sites where harvest rate was 5–7%. Overall, we achieved 93% of harvest objectives. Contrary to our expectations, however, deer density, vegetation abundance and growth, and deer life-history traits did not vary differently in experimental and control sites during the study period. They rather varied stochastically but synchronously. We discuss several alternative hypotheses that may explain these results, including 1) compensatory mechanisms, 2) biases in density estimates, 3) limited access to territory for hunters, 4) large target areas for localized management, 5) low hunter density, 6) recolonization by surrounding deer, 7) slow plant response under canopy cover, and 8) bottom-up mechanisms. Given the large efforts invested in this study, we conclude that the local control of abundant cervid populations through sport hunting may be difficult to achieve in many natural environments. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.

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