If you could have flown over North American in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America) you would have seen a vast wilderness, unbroken by the sweeping hand of civilization. And if you could have somehow counted all the white-tailed deer within the forests then, their numbers would have totaled about 45 million.
Now if you jumped ahead in time some 400 years to 1903 when the first plane did actually fly over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina by Wilbur and Orville Wright, you’d see that the landscape had changed dramatically. Settlers with their axes and plows had transformed many of the lush forests into farms. Settlers’ guns combined with uncontrolled market hunting had also dramatically impacted those 45 million white-tailed deer. In fact, they had been decimated to the point of only an estimated 300,000 deer in the United States by 1903. With such a downward spiral, they seemed doomed to near extinction, right?
But thanks to the birth and evolution of modern wildlife management, things changed dramatically for the white-tailed deer. Now there are about 100 times more deer, some 30 MILLION that now inhabit North America. Think about that for a moment… 100 times more deer than 100 years ago. And today, the “whitetail”, as many people call them, represent the nation’s most abundant wild game resource and one of America’s great conservation success stories… all rolled into one.
All that sounds pretty wonderful on the surface. But with that many deer sharing a limited or shrinking wild landscape with some 300 million humans creates a whole set of serious challenges for wildlife managers, public safety officials and the other species that share those limited wild places. Two reasons that whitetails have been so successful in rebounding their numbers are: 1) they are extremely adaptable to almost any wild or human-made environment, 2) they are a “keystone” species – which means they can dominate and eat so much plant matter in an ecosystem that they can adversely impact all the other species that try to share that ecosystem.
Watch the video on this page plus click on the Learn More button below to “learn lots more” about managing white-tailed deer and how wildlife managers use regulated hunting as a key tool in ecosystem management. To truly become junior wildlife managers, have your teacher download the free lessons on Managing White-tailed Deer below so the entire class can share in the science and discovery of managing your own deer herds. The links below will also help you learn how different places developed their deer management plans. And once you’ve learned about managing deer, expand your wildlife knowledge by exploring Managing Black Bears.
This wildlife education program is made possible with support of the follow educational partners. Teachers can link to their websites for additional information and educational opportunities, such as their American Wilderness Leadership School Youth Program.
At SCI Foundation’s American Wilderness Leadership School location in Jackson, Wyoming, educators and students learn about conservation, wildlife management, and outdoor recreation through outdoor, hands-on activities. Their Hands on Wildlife (HOW) program provides educators with conservation education instructional tools they can use in hands-on instruction.