Conservationists seeking to preserve lions, tigers leopards and cougars all acknowledge that abundance of prey animals is key to healthy numbers of apex predators.
But humans and their penchant for overpopulation and development make life hard for all animals and the predators that depend on them. Deforestation and urban development, landscaping and other common human activities deprive prey animals of their habitat and thus predators of their food.
Or the pendulum can swing too far the other way. “Popular” animals such as deer can be allowed to overpopulate and thus face the very real and cruel specter of starvation.
Humans can be predators too, and thoughtful hunters can and do participate in conservation efforts to protect the wildlife they and other apex predators wish to hunt.
Enter hunter/conservationists. The tradition is old, dating back beyond Theodore Roosevelt and the founding of Boone and Crockett. Boone and Crockett is the nation’s first conservation organization. Founded in 1887 by then future president Roosevelt the group pioneered ethical hunting. B and C was named after Daniel Boone and David Crockett. Boone and Crockett were famous hunters but spoke out against over hunting. Roosevelt’s organization protected Yellowstone Park, help found the National Park Service and the National Forest Service and worked to foster ethical hunting. The tradition continues today with groups such as the Mule Deer Foundation.
Their website says they are the only group dedicated primarily to conservation of mule deer and blacktail deer. Their avowed goals are to ensure habitat, encourage scientific inquiry, fund conservation efforts and educate the public. They also seek to encourage limited ethical and legal hunting and promote hunting safety.
Mule deer and black tailed deer are related and found primarily in the American West. They range up to 300 pounds and have large mulish ears, hence the name. Black tailed deer have black tails and both deer have different antler structures than white-tailed deer. Deer are favored prey of wolves, coyotes, cougars and sometimes bobcats. Invasive pythons in Florida have even eaten them.
Although mule deer are not endangered, habitat loss, disease, drought and perhaps too much hunting by humans and other predators has caused a population decline.
The Mule Deer Federation works to improve deer habitat and will even purchase land or easements to help deer thrive. They also have numerous conservation programs in train.
East of the Missouri River the predominant deer is the whitetail. Their champions include Whitetails Unlimited. The organization has very similar goals to the Mule Deer Foundation but faces a diferent problem. Human expansion, the lack of predators and restrictive hunting and firearms laws have caused overpopulation in many areas. Ironically, white tails benefit from proximity to humans whose lawns and gardens provide food. The dearth of predators and the restrictions on hunting are resulting in overpopulation and starvation.