If the residents of Orcas Island witnessed the clear-cutting of our forests, there would be moral outrage –– and action to save our cherished overstory. Yet when an uncontrolled deer population decimates our understory, we do nothing.
When Europeans came to these islands, we removed the apex predators that kept the ecosystem in balance. Then we abdicated our responsibility to hunt. In the interim, the deer population may have 10X-ed, and our island bears scant resemblance to the verdantly-carpeted place that once was.
Wildlife experts are seeing disturbing declines in bird, insect and plant populations. One butterfly species is nearing extinction. And the deer population is malnourished and starving, with does abandoning fawns because they do not have the food stores to nurse them.
Population control mechanisms like sterilization or re-introduction of predators are infeasible. The clear solution is to encourage thoughtful, well-regulated hunting. However, due to private ownership of land, hunting on a scale that would materially reduce deer populations is currently impossible.
Many islanders, including me, enjoy seeing our local deer, don’t like guns, and don’t want to be a hunting destination. But continuing the status quo – actively preventing predation, and thus keeping nature out of balance – means we are causing immense damage to other plant and animal species. This is unacceptable. Other species matter too, even if they aren’t as “cute” as black-tailed deer.
As stewards of this land, we must create a solution. Here’s one idea: for two well-publicized weeks per year, allow hunting at Turtleback and Moran, with increased allowances. Ask that hunters donate half their harvest to the island. On the final Saturday, instead of eating factory-farmed meat, Islanders come together on the green to eat free, sustainable venison, with all remainders donated to the Food Bank.
In a world with so many problems, Orcas Island should be able to manage deer overpopulation. In a world of widespread environmental protests, we should recognize something we are called to do to protect our backyard ecosystem. And in a world of deep division, we should transcend our biases, respect science, and act together in the interest of our community and our environment. Visit https://www.change.org/understory to sign my petition.