Wildlife Management

The primary goal of wildlife management in the Duke Forest is to maintain as diverse and complete a population of animals native to the Piedmont as possible. This has generally been accomplished by restricting human disturbance in certain habitats, targeting reduction of overabundant White-tailed deer, and managing for a diversity of habitats at the landscape and stand levels. 

The Duke Forest’s approach to wildlife management also includes wildlife monitoring and baseline information establishment (e.g. research through community science, master’s projects, etc.) and the use of that information to implement specific management interventions that promote wildlife (e.g. maintaining wildlife corridors). We recently participated in the production of the Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Plan with the Triangle Connectivity Collaborative (formerly known as the Eno-New Hope Landscape Connectivity Group), a network of nonprofit and government agencies who assessed the habitat connectivity for wildlife in our region. The Duke Forest is an anchoring land base for increasingly fragmented wildlife habitats.

White-tailed Deer

Duke Forest staff and visitors to the Forest have noticed a substantial impact from deer browsing on understory shrubs, herbaceous plants, and tree seedlings. These casual observations have been confirmed by analysis of data from permanent vegetation study plots in the Korstian and Durham Divisions.

The 2020 deer density maps compiled by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (see map below) show deer densities in Durham and Orange Counties at 41 – 50 deer/square mile and >50 deer/square mile, respectively. These densities greatly exceed the generally accepted ecological carrying capacity for deer in eastern North America1, which ranges between approximately 8 – 26 deer/square mile. Since White-tailed deer reproduction is an annual event, it is imperative that population control measures are conducted every season. 

To learn more about White-tailed deer, visit: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Mammals/Whitetail-Deer

Map of North Carolina showing deer densities by county

2020 NC White-Tailed Deer Density Map

The problem of overabundant deer1:

  • Human fatalities from collisions with wildlife, mostly deer (over 1 million/year) have an average cost/collision = $6,717)
  • Deer are reservoirs and vectors of zoonotic diseases, e.g. Lyme’s disease
  • Deer browse heavily on forest understories and alter vegetation composition of plant communities, which influences the distribution and abundance of species at multiple trophic levels that depend on those plant communities.
  • Households experience damage to gardens, yards, and ornamental plants that averages $73/household.
  • Deer-vehicle collisions are the principle cause of mortality for deer in areas where deer and human coexist.

Dr. Bill Schesinger, retired president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and former Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, wrote an informative and succinct blog post about the problem with overabundant deer in April 2023. We recommend reading it to better understand the issue.

In the spring of 2005, the Office of the Duke Forest conducted a spotlight population survey to determine the abundance and distribution of deer on the Forest.  Volunteers from Duke University, N.C. State University, and the surrounding communities participated in the study.

Deer Spotlight Survey

Survey results indicated that population numbers were up to 3 times greater than “acceptable” levels in the Durham, Korstian, and Blackwood Divisions.  After consulting with several wildlife experts and exploring several alternatives, the Office determined that the only viable population control would be a targeted culling of does through a regulated hunt.

Since 2008, the Office has participated in the Deer Management Assistance Program administered by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, the state agency that manages wildlife and hunting.  Under this program, hunters are allowed to take does from the Forest that do not count toward regular hunt season limits.

To view information about the current deer management season, click here.

[1] Westerfield, G. D., J. M. Shannon, O. V. Duvuvuei, T. A. Decker, N. P. Snow, E. D. Shank, B. F. Wakeling, andH. B. White. 2019. Methods for managing human-deer conflicts in urban, suburban, and exurban areas. Human-Wildlife Interactions Monograph 3:1-99.

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