Brought To You By Hunters
May is a season of fast changes.
Storm clouds boil up over the hills to the west and sweep rain across the region.
Days of baking sun are followed by mornings where winter coats are more appropriate. Most of the changes, though, are quiet.
The forest fills slowly with life.
Ferns slowly sprout into fiddleheads, which then unfurl and cover the forest floor with a miniature jungle.
Tiny birds who do not nest here fill the forest with odd calls as they head back to the wild north where they will nest.
Wildflowers bloom and go to seed so quickly that you have to hike a couple of times a week if you want to see them all.
I love spring and all the riotous colors of birds, flowers, rainbows, storm clouds and insects that come along with it. Every year I wander through the greening hills to see what is happening in the wild areas of the county.
One thing that has become obvious is that wildflowers bloom in the footsteps of hunters.
Our favorite, most diverse stands of wildflowers are all in areas that allow hunting.
The truth is that humans have removed all the deer predators from the area.
The deer are literally eating themselves out of the forest habitat that they live in.
A forest that is over-populated with deer may not be noticed by many, but to someone who loves forests, it is a nightmare.
The green is all from ferns and other plants that deer don’t like. Many wildflowers are stunted and cower close to the ground where the deer can’t nibble them away.
Some flowers, like trillium, disappear entirely. Young trees remain stunted at knee height as they are browsed to the snow line every winter. Hemlock and pine trees have no needles that are in reach of deer.
Deer change forests into a place that deer don’t like, much the way peas may end up on the side of a child’s plate no matter how well mixed in they were.
Deer change the forests by only eating the things they love until all that is left is what they won’t eat.
If you like to wander around in healthy forests and admire vast tracks of wildflowers and other plants, stop and thank one of last autumn’s deer hunters. They make a healthy forest possible.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.