Strawberry Supermax

Every night, all across America, hungry deer tiptoe out into farmer’s fields.  Deer that are especially hungry or bold don’t even wait for nightfall.  Either way, one thing is certain:  We only get the leftovers.

Deer-related agricultural losses are hard to quantify.  But we do know that here in the U.S., each of our 30 million or so deer eats an average of around 3,000 pounds of vegetation per year.  (Depending on its size and appetite, your deer may vary.)  A lot of those deer live in farm country, where crops like soybeans, corn, and alfalfa can make up over 85% of their diet.  The numbers add up.

For most crops, however, deer-proof fences just aren’t affordable or practical.  In the animal Olympics, deer can kick cows’ asses when it comes to the running high jump.  Your basic five-strand barbwire fence isn’t much of an obstacle for them.  To be totally reliable, a deer-proof fence needs to be at least eight feet high.  That’s why you’ll only see them around small-acreage, high-value, deer-candy crops like cranberries, apples, or strawberries.

I recently snapped a couple shots of this eight-foot, outward-leaning electric fence at a U-Pick-‘Em strawberry operation.  While this fence also deters any young humans who start getting ideas about picking a few strawberries after the bars close, it’s mainly there for the deer.  (Although fairly intelligent, deer have not yet learned to use wire cutters with insulated handles.)  A few feet from the fence, I saw deer tracks in the mud.  Apparently a scout had been there the night before, probing for vulnerabilities. 

As I write this, I’m realizing that a large percentage of my recent posts have shared a similar theme, both conceptually and visually.  There was the electrified bear fence at my local transfer station, wolf fladry around the perimeter of a cattle ranch, various deer exclosures, and now this.  By now you could be wondering if I have, like maybe…  “Boundary issues.”  I do not. 

But deer do.

I’m done with fences for now.  Next time, something completely different—and even a short break from deer:  Wolf Genetics, and Why it Suddenly Matters.

© 2011 Al Cambronne

Love, Obsession, and Consequences is now DEERLAND

It’s time for a major website makeover.  Love, Obsession, and Consequences is now DEERLAND.  

To many of you, my website’s previous title must have seemed puzzling.  My blog posts were about nature, the environment, the outdoors, and even hunting.  What did any of that have to do with “love, obsession, and consequences?”

I could tell from my search stats that I was often a dead end for lovelorn souls who desperately needed help with important personal decisions.  They arrived at my website after Googling questions like “Is it love or obsession?” and “How to get over a love obsession?”  To them, I apologize.  If you’re one of them, and if you happen to return and read this, I sincerely hope things are going better by now.

To the rest of you, I can explain everything.  It’s all about the deer.  You see, our complex relationship with deer truly does make for a twisted tale of love, obsession, and consequences.  First comes love and obsession, then consequences. 

That’s the story I’m working on now.  And today, on July 4, it’s official.  The working title of my next book is DEERLAND.

It will be published by Lyons Press, and is represented by Laurie Abkemeier.  She’s a great agent, one of the best in the business, and I feel tremendously fortunate to be working with her.  Without her patient coaching and guidance, I never could have made it this far.

It’s been a long road.  I’ve already drafted a couple chapters, and I’ve learned a lot about both the publishing business and the deer business.  In both cases, however, I’m still learning.  There’s a long road ahead, both figuratively and literally. 

As I research this story, I’ll be driving down freeways, back roads, old logging roads, and even suburban side streets.  I’ll also wear out a couple pair of hiking boots.  During the months to come, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences right here on my blog.  

Out in the woods, new stories are waiting to be told.  The deer are out there.  I’m going to tell their story—and ours, too.  

We do, after all, live in DEERLAND.  It’s easy to underestimate, especially if you live somewhere like LA or NYC, just how huge a role deer play in the environment, our culture, and even our economy.  To learn a bit more, please check out my new Home page as soon as you’re done here.  For now, let’s just say our complex relationship with deer reveals a great deal about America—and also about us Americans. 

Yes, this is a story about deer.  Most of all, however, it’s a story about us.


Silent Summer

In my last post, I introduced you to the deer of Dairymen’s and showed you an exclosure and a lollipop tree.  This time, I’ll tell you more—how bad things got, why they’re getting better, and what lessons this story holds for the rest of us.

In the photo above, you can see how much of Dairymen’s still looks today.  The forest understory is completely missing.  Even in June, the ground is brown.  Elsewhere, the scene is green and park-like, as in in the photo below.  These are all plants that resist or tolerate herbivory.  Everything else is gone.  Still, if you don’t know you’re looking at a scene of ecological devastation, it looks lovely. 


It is green.  But there’s no cover for small mammals or ground-nesting birds.  There’s no understory or mid-story where other songbirds would be nesting.  No grouse, no turkey, no finches, no warblers, no squirrels, no chipmunks, no nothing.  I was there on a still, humid day in June.  Nothing moved, and the forest was strangely silent.  I heard a robin off in the distance.  That was about it. 

(Admittedly, there were plenty of mosquitoes.  So it’s not exactly true that nothing was moving.  But that was it.)

This is what long-term overbrowsing looks like.  Here, deer had reached densities of over 100 per square mile and stayed at that level for decades.  This is unusual, but not unique.  The U.S. now has over 30 million deer, a hundred times more than were here just a century ago.  Their densities per square mile in America’s suburbs and parks have at times reached 100 in Chicago, 125 in Minneapolis, 182 in parts of New Jersey, 200 in Kansas City, and 400 in Washington, D.C.

Elsewhere, the effects of overabundant deer are less dramatic, but still significant.  Even if we spend a fair amount of time out in the woods, most of us have never seen a forest that’s not shaped by deer.  There’s no free lunch, and we trade more deer for less of everything else.  But when forced to choose between whitetails and all other wildlife, we almost always choose deer.

For 70 years, the Dairymen did.  But in the 90s, they stopped feeding them.  (In the photo above, you can still see the rusted, abandoned half of a 55-gallon drum that was once used to feed deer.)  A couple years ago, a pack of wolves moved in.  Things are looking up. 

Still, I’m not sure the wolves will be a popular solution in New Jersey or Kansas City.

© 2011 Al Cambronne