Walk explores management of Virginia’s deer population

Bambi or Bam-Zilla? We all remember the wonderful Walt Disney movie, “Bambi,” and our hearts go out to the sweet speckled fawns that we see in our nearby fields and forests. But the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is more than an icon of pastoral bliss.

With a wide natural range from Canada as far south as Peru, the species flourishes in a mosaic habitat of fields and forest. And in parts of Virginia, the population is now four times larger than normally available habitat provisions.

Harry Puffenberger of the Rappahannock chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists leads a group of visitors on a recent Working Woods Walk at James Madison’s Montpelier. Courtesy photo.
Harry Puffenberger of the Rappahannock chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists leads a group of visitors on a recent Working Woods Walk at James Madison’s Montpelier. Courtesy photo.

The results of such high numbers are detrimental to deer, their habitat and us. Because deer, as a native species, favor eating native plants, they are decimating certain native populations and giving invasive species an advantage. A larger population also leaves some deer nutritionally compromised, and increases the number of detrimental human/deer interactions, including roadway collisions. 

Such natural resource agencies and organizations as Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Forestry and Virginia Tech are in partnership to identify the best management practices to control the ever-increasing deer population.

You can learn more about these challenges from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 during a Working Woods Walk at James Madison’s Montpelier. 

Two new deer exclosure areas are part of the Montpelier Working Woods Walk. Venture deep into the Montpelier Demonstration Forest on a two-hour hike to learn about this and other conservation and cultivation strategies that generate mutual benefits to man and nature, both in Madison’s time and today.

The deer exclosure area is a monitoring technique meant to assist experts assessing how best to manage increasing deer populations, and prevent deer from interacting with the natural growth of vegetation. Understory growth then can be measured within each plot and compared with growth outside the plots, helping experts determine the environmental impact of the deer population and to seek solutions. 

The walk through President Madison’s beloved woodlands will be led by Virginia Master Naturalists through a state-of-the-art trail showcasing various forest and habitat tending methods.

The cost of the tour is $10 (or $5 with purchase a Mansion tour ticket; ages 5 and younger are free). The tour begins at 2 p.m. at the Visitor Center, and is part of the Virginia LEAF (Link to Education About Forests) program. For more information, visit montpelier.org/visit.

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