The rich tradition of hunting is deeply intertwined with the Conservation Department's goals and mission because hunting is needed throughout our state to maintain a sustainable deer population. Additionally, hunting regulations are needed to ensure wildlife resources are never again depleted in Missouri. (MDC file photo)
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. I find it ironic that 75 years ago our agency was started by a citizen-led effort to respond to the depletion of wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, and on this historic anniversary the city of Cape Girardeau is deciding what to do about it's now abundant deer population.
The rich tradition of hunting is deeply intertwined with the Conservation Department's goals and mission because hunting is needed throughout our state to maintain a sustainable deer population. Additionally, hunting regulations are needed to ensure wildlife resources are never again depleted in Missouri.
Through the 1940s and 1950s, deer and wild turkey were the focus of MDC's major wildlife restoration efforts. A benchmark study by biologists Rudolf Bennitt and Werner Nagel published in 1937 showed only 1,800 deer left in the state with many other species of wildlife very scarce or gone. In 1938, MDC closed deer hunting seasons statewide. The fall deer season reopened in 1959 and today Missouri offers some of the best deer hunting in the country with about 500,000 hunters harvesting around 300,000 deer annually. This activity generates more than $1 billion of overall business activity in the state each year and supports more than 11,000 jobs.
Today, MDC's conservation efforts include all native plants and animals and the natural systems that they depend on. In addition to deer and turkey, a great variety of native wildlife benefits from these broader efforts such as bluebirds, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, eastern collared lizards, barn owls, western chicken turtles and most recently, the elk.
So on this 75th anniversary, we find our state balancing wildlife management of deer and other species through regulated hunting and habitat development. Without management, white-tails can succumb to starvation or disease or (more often) the animals are subjected to painful deaths caused by collisions with motor vehicles. Additionally, very few natural predators of white-tails exist in Missouri, so hunters fill in that gap to ensure the herd is maintained at a healthy population level.
All of these facts demonstrate that MDC's management decisions are based on research and sound science with a focus on benefiting the fish, forests and wildlife in our state as well as Missouri citizens. It's important to understand that while the MDC supports the continuation of hunting in Missouri for wildlife management, state economics and as an important and rich tradition, the MDC is not advocating hunting as the sole method of urban deer management in Cape Girardeau. In fact, the MDC is not advocating for any method and serves as an educational resource for the city. Professionally trained wildlife biologists manage white-tails across Missouri, so it makes sense that these professionals are the most qualified resources for those who don't usually work in wildlife management. If the city leaders decide to manage the herd, they will likely explore many methods while seeking advice of the Department's professional wildlife management biologists.
Some other deer management methods the Department has explored in urban areas, and in some cases recommended, include ordinances to ban deer feeding, habitat modification, fencing, and use of repellants. The MDC does not recommend live trapping and sterilization or contraception as methods for deer management and it does not allow live trapping and transfer of deer because of high mortality associated with the process and risks of spreading deer diseases and parasites.
These methods (ordinances, habitat modification, and repellents) have varying levels of effectiveness and cost and they are all something to consider. But from where I sit, the best thing to consider in this debate is that we're discussing how to manage a herd that is here. We're not trying to figure out how to bring back a missing piece of our ecological puzzle and worrying that our children won't ever see a white-tailed deer. As you contemplate methods to manage white-tails, I hope you take a moment to remember how their absence prompted the birth of a state agency just 75 years ago.
For further information on the MDC, hunting or urban deer management, please explore the Department website at www.mdc.mo.gov, call the Southeast Regional Office at (573)290-5730 or talk to your local conservation agent.