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Land parcelization and deer population densities in a rural county of Virginia




The parcelization of exurban landscapes creates a matrix of intermediately sized and privately managed land parcels, presenting a unique challenge to wildlife managers. During 2010–2011, we studied the correlates between land parcelization, deer density, and hunting patterns in exurban northwestern Virginia, USA. We estimated October deer densities (no. deer/km2) and conducted landowner surveys of deer harvest in 13 study blocks of mean size 34.8 km2. The extent of parcelization varied between study blocks; mean parcel size ranged from 2.00 ha to 26.12 ha. We used distance-sampling techniques to survey pre-harvest deer densities in each section, with estimated densities ranging from 9.4 deer/km2 to 30.1 deer/km2. We quantified deer harvest through calculations of harvest density and the percentage of land hunted. As parcel size increased, the percentage of land hunted increased. Harvest densities reported by landowners, however, remained constant with the exception of 2.0–4.0-ha parcels, which had higher harvest densities than 60.8–161.8-ha parcels. We used linear regression analysis to model the response of deer density (natural log) to landscape metrics, and the best-fit model predicted deer density from mean parcel size with equivalent models including habitat with mean parcel size. Our results suggest that development processes that subdivide rural lands can significantly increase deer populations. The mechanism for this increase may be restricted hunter access to smaller property parcels and-or increased probability of deer refuges nearby. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.