California Deer Declines and Why Habitat Matters

If there were ever a showcase on the link between good habitat and healthy game herds, perhaps the poster child would be the deer populations of California.

Herds in the state are feel­ing the pinch poor habi­tat con­di­tions cre­ate, reports Matt Weiser at the Sacra­mento Bee.

Sta­tis­tics from the state Depart­ment of Fish and Game show pop­u­la­tions are nearly half of what they were in 1990, and are con­tin­u­ing to decline due to a vari­ety of habi­tat losses – land con­ver­sion, devel­op­ment, fire sup­pres­sion, clos­ing of migra­tion cor­ri­dors – the list goes on.

“Our deer are sur­viv­ing, they’re not thriv­ing,” said Craig Stow­ers, deer pro­gram man­ager at Fish and Game. “Quite frankly, until peo­ple start tak­ing this seri­ously, we’re going to con­tinue to expe­ri­ence these types of declines.”

And while many in the sporting community seem to understand the link – healthy habitat equals healthy herds – some in Congress aren’t as quick to catch on.

A bill introduced last year (H.R. 1581/S. 1087) seeks to open up much of that quality habitat to disturbance by allowing new roads and development in Inventoried Roadless Areas and Wilderness Study Areas. The bill was guised as a opening of land that has been “off limits,” – a misnomer at the very least as roadless areas are immensely important, highly productive and highly sought after pieces of backcountry that remain pristine enough to produce the monster bucks and bulls sportsmen so eagerly seek. Nearly 90 percent of roadless areas fall within two miles of a road, and many even have roads in them. (For more on what roadless is, or more importantly, what it isn’t, click here.)

A quick browse through the recently launched site, www.oursportingheritage.org, shows that if the bill were to pass, more than 4 million acres of California public lands would be opened to new roads and development – and tens of millions across the rest of the U.S.

In sum, what it adds up to is more problems for the deer of California, not to mention wildlife across the West, who seem to be facing enough issues already.

Some have blamed the California declines on preda­tors such as moun­tain lions, but Randy Mor­ri­son, Cal­i­for­nia regional direc­tor at the Mule Deer Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tion and hunt­ing orga­ni­za­tion, doesn’t buy it.

“I believe it’s habi­tat, habi­tat, habi­tat,” he said. “So far, I don’t believe we’re turn­ing the tide at all. I’m con­cerned. Very concerned.”

And rightly so, it seems. Just one more rea­son to keep what we have.

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