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Knowledge: Deer Exclosures

As you wander through many parks, you’ll see odd, fenced areas.  Not very large, maybe ten by ten meters, and a few meters tall, these enclosures are used to measure the impact of deer, elk, moose, wild boars, or other animals on the local ecosystem.

Any park with a large population of often-hunted animals is often subjected to disputes between hunters and non-hunters.

  • The hunters, seeing a large number of these animals, often due to the animals being human socialized, argue that there are too many of the animals, the ecosystem is overpopulated, and they should be allowed to hunt and kill off large numbers of these relatively tame animals.
  • Non-hunters, who greatly prefer to see large numbers of animals wandering around alive, argue that there’s no overpopulation problem, that the animals are protected in this park, and as a result, they don’t run and hide any time they see a human.  They also argue that the food supply will naturally limit the population of any species, including deer, elk, wild boars, etc.

Park managers, caught in the middle, use these animal exclosures as a way to (relatively) objectively gauge the impact of larger, grazing animals on the local ecosystem.  Since the fence is made of a fairly open wire mesh, smaller animals can easily pass through it to access the plants within, but larger animals can not.  By comparing the plant growth inside the fence with that outside the fence, over a period of months, it’s possible to determine if the larger animals are having a disproportionate, or even damaging, impact on the ecosystem.  If the inside is lush, green, and filled with plants and the outside is stripped down bare to the ground, there’s a definitely problem.  If they look the same, there’s definitely no problem.  If there’s a distinct difference between inside and outside, over a period of months or more, then more work needs to be done to determine if an overpopulation problem exists.

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