A Deer Letter From Long Island: Before and After in Southold

 2001 Photo From Southold, NY

Before: Fewer Deer in 2001

After my “Can’t See the Forest for the Deer” op-ed appeared in last week’s Wall Street Journal, I received several e-mails from readers.  One was from Southold, New York—the same Southold out on Long Island where a suburban deer cull is currently underway.  My correspondent lives right next door to the Tall Pines Conservation Area mentioned in last week’s op-ed and blog post, and she’s unfortunately experienced the same level of deer damage on her own property.  She was kind enough to send me these before-and-after photos of the woods beside her cottage.

She wrote: “In 2001 we could not walk thru our woods- so filled with undergrowth, wild berries and plants, butterflies snakes salamanders frogs small animals all over and ground nesting birds. It is DEAD now – you can see thru 1000 feet . Nothing alive below 6 ft from the ground. We had a few deer in 2001. HERDS of them now…  We’ve both had Lyme disease and we drive 15 miles an hour- as many deer run across the road every time we go out- including daytime… People do not want to visit us on the East end due to the tick diseases.”

Soon after buying her four acres, she created a stitched-together panorama showing the entire 900 feet of frontage along the road.  (The photo above is one of many she used to build her panorama.)  Back then deer numbers were apparently at a lower, more ecologically sustainable level.  As you can see from the photo below, that’s no longer true.  Lately she hasn’t felt excited about taking regular photos showing the missing understory and midstory in her woods.  She did, however, find this 2013 Google street view of her property.

By now Google must have collected thousands of street views that document the impacts of overabundant deer in America’s cities, parks, and suburbs. Some streets must have been photographed repeatedly over the years.  I find that whole idea fascinating, and I hope someone of a more empirical, analytical bent will find in it the germ of a tremendous research project.  But for the reader whose woods are pictured below, that’s little consolation.

2013 Google Streetview Showing Deer Damage in Southold, NY

After: A 2013 Google Street View of the Same Address

© 2014 Al Cambronne


Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.

5 thoughts on “A Deer Letter From Long Island: Before and After in Southold”

  1. You know it might not be PC and everything but I like your after photo better than the before. I spent a youth climbing through mountain laurel thickets and the idea of an easy to walk through forest with no underbrush and full of deer sounds like heaven on earth. Ya I know overpopulated and disease and all that but I’m just saying.

    1. I know what you mean. As I wrote in last week’s post, we almost seem hard-wired to prefer that sort of scene. Even if there’s not much life there, and even if it’s kind of a green desert, it’s still appealing. I guess it’s like sandy beaches that don’t have a scrap of cover or vegetation. You might find better fishing up the shoreline in that mucky spot with all the fallen trees and lily pads, but there’s something about a sandy beach.

    2. You might like Finnish forests then. The country has obviously been selectively-logged and over-browsed by moose. Very little undergrowth, and lots of thick trees.

      I don’t really call them forests, but rather tree-fields.

  2. Ecologists are increasingly linking deer density and biodiversity decline, which is illustrated so well in the photos you show. A particularly interesting study is one by Simon Cholet and Jean-Louis Martin (see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ddi.12003/full). This is a continent-wide analysis showing that the decline in songbirds who nest and forage in the forest understory is correlated with deer density. Whereas canopy nesting birds have declined by about 20% over the last 40 years, forest understory birds have declined by as much as 67% where deer densities are highest. In East Hampton, NY, Breeding Bird Surveys show declines of 50% in the last twenty years. So that forest in the second photo is also a silent one.

    1. Julie — You’re absolutely right. Those impacts are a lot more severe than most people realize. Interesting to learn about those bird survey numbers from eastern Long Island–the same area where the photos were taken.

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