Massachusetts wildlife experts say hunting is good for local forests

With the hunting season close at hand, one can soon expect to hear gunfire or spot hunters in camouflage gear walking around. But the archery hunters in Framingham and the bow and gun hunters in other communities across the state also help keep the forests healthy.

That’s according to Pat Huckery, Northeast District Supervisor in the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Division.

Massachusetts, where archery season begins today in areas east of Interstate 495 (and October 18 everywhere else), has a long history of safe hunting practices.

It has been decades since the last death of a non-hunter in the Commonwealth; Huckery said there have been deaths from people falling from trees – harnesses are now required – or heart events when moving woodland game.

At any time of the year, however, Huckery suggests donning “Hunter Orange,” a painfully bright shade that’s easy to spot in wood.

“I want everyone to feel safe in the woods together,” Huckery said. “Wear your Hunter Orange, whether it’s hunting season or not, so people can see and find you in the event of an accident. “

In Framingham, only bow hunting is permitted on two town-maintained plots: Wittenborg Woods and Macomber Reservation.

“We don’t have a lot of hunters,” said Robert McArthur, the city’s conservation administrator, noting that the city has only issued permits to Wittenborg Woods for a few years. This year, only four permits have been issued and signs are being put up to inform people of areas where hunting is permitted.

“Deer don’t have the predators they once had,” McArthur said, but it can still be difficult to explain that deer hunters act as “a very humane way of dealing with deer.”

“It can be difficult to make the connection so they can understand why you might need a deer hunting program to help you manage your land and manage your deer population,” McArthur said. “It’s not a free-for-all. It’s very managed.

It’s also been a few years since no one got a permit for Macomber Reservation, surrounded by several neighborhoods and crossed by an extensive network of trails. Foot traffic like dogs and hikers scares deer – and McArthur said the difference in deer eating, called “boating,” is noticeable.

Healthy forests and your garden

“When the deer density is above 20 per square mile, you see the impacts on the forest,” Huckery said. “The health of the forest is not only important for deer, it is important for birds, other mammals, snakes, turtles, amphibians and insects. It is important that people can enter a healthy forest.

Huckery said the hallmark of an over-harvested forest is a lack of understory – small and saplings like oaks and beaches, and beach trees that look like shrubs rather than deer-eating trees. repeatedly new shoots.

“You’re never going to grow trees, and all you have is a bunch of old trees, and then you’ve got nothing in between,” Huckery said.

Overexploited areas can also turn into monocultures of ferns.

“It’s not that the ferns are invasive, it’s just that they grew back after the deer ate everything else,” she said. “If you have a mixed deciduous forest with white pine, you should have an understory. You should have a layer of shrubs. You should have saplings. You should be able to see skinny oaks everywhere.

However, deer damage is not exclusive to forests.

If buyers have noticed the frequency of “deer resistant” signs adorning plants in their local garden center, it is because deer damage is not exclusive to forests. While wandering through backyards, deer may turn to rhododendrons, hostas, flowers of all kinds, and evergreen shrubs like arborvitae can all fall victim to deer grazing.

“Deer love arborvitae,” Huckery said, explaining that deer will eat from below and then as high as they can reach. “(The arborvitae) are missing all of the lower parts of the shrub, and then there’s this little mushroom top on it.”

In addition to grazing, deer also spread disease-carrying ticks; Lyme disease, transmitted by blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, can cause many problems and should be treated with antibiotics.

The formal term for a balanced population in an ecosystem is “biological carrying capacity”, the population that can be sustained by the environment.

When there are too many deer, Huckery said vehicle crashes can become more frequent, grazing can irreparably damage forest health, and harsh winters can lead to starvation in animals. If there are too few deer, the population could become endangered and lose its genetic diversity.

Deer management is supposed to hit the sweet spot, and successful hunting programs can help achieve that goal, Huckery explained. She said that as part of raising awareness about these programs, she spends a lot of time focusing on whether the hunt is safe for everyone and why it is a good one. management practice.

“It asks people to keep an open mind and tolerate someone else’s legal right to hunt, to collect game and to put it on their table,” she said. “We all have the right to do certain things and we all have opinions about what others are doing. “

Eat local

“People are turning into ‘vore locals’,” Huckery said. “They get their vegetables local, they eat local and they look to harvesting deer as a great way to provide protein for their families. “

Huckery pointed out that other forms of population control, like hiring snipers or injecting birth control, would not be as effective – and would be nearly impossible and expensive to implement. Additionally, both practices are illegal in Massachusetts.

“As a hunter, I’m not interested in shooting anything other than what I want to put on my table,” Huckery said. “It’s very regulated.

Lillian Eden can be reached at 617-459-6409 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LillianWEden.

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