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White-tailed Deer: Beauty or Beast?

Keywords: white-tailed deer, population, habitat, management, carrying capacity; Grade Level: tenth through twelfth grade; Total Time for Lesson: four standard (40- to 45-minute) class periods; Setting: classroom

Materials Needed

  • Pennsylvania Whitetails: Living with Change video (75-minutes long, available from PA Game Commission )
  • photocopies of White-Tailed Deer: Wildlife Notes (available from PA Game Commission )
  • photocopies of study guide for White-Tailed Deer: Wildlife Notes
  • photocopies of for "Pennsylvania Whitetails: Living With Change" video guides (2)
  • answers to study and video guides

Subjects: wildlife biology, forestry science, environmental science, applied biology 

Topics: white-tailed deer, populations, carrying capacity, wildlife management

State Standards Addressed: E & E: Environmental Health (4.3); Ecosystems and Their Interactions (4.6); Threatened, Endangered, and Extinct Species (4.7); Humans and the Environment (4.8)

Concepts to Be Covered

  • The white-tailed deer population in Pennsylvania is increasing at an alarming rate.
  • Changes made by humans on natural ecosystems have allowed this increase to happen.
  • In forested ecosystems, habitat quality dictates maximum sustainable deer densities.
  • In addition to carrying capacities being biologically controlled, they must also reflect relationships with humans.
  • Numerous solutions exist for reducing deer population levels.
  • While not always a prefect solution, regulated sport hunting remains the most viable method for controlling numbers of deer.
  • Management of deer is necessary because natural population controls cannot coexist with our society.

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will be familiar with the natural history and reproductive patterns of the white-tailed deer.
  • Students will be able to list the favorite foods and most ideal habitat of the white-tailed deer.
  • Students will be able to trace the history of the white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania and relate environmental changes to historical events which caused their numbers to increase to present levels.
  • Students will be able to list attributes that have made the white-tailed deer a valuable resource and the negative factors that have caused conflicts with humans.
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast biological carrying capacity and cultural carrying capacity.
  • Students will be able to relate different types of habitat to the maximum sustainable densities of deer that each will support.
  • Students will be able to rate several deer population control methods as to their effectiveness.
  • Students will be able to explain why white-tailed deer must be managed rather than allowing natural control methods to operate.

Teaching Models: Direct Instruction for presentation of terminology & concepts; Audio-Visual for PA Whitetails video; Out-of-Class Practice for study guide for White-Tailed Deer: Wildlife Notes to be completed as homework

Evaluation/Assessment

  • Material presented from overhead slides and from discussion can be assessed on subsequent tests.
  • Grades can be placed on film guides and on study guides.

Lesson Outline

Day 1: Introduction, notes and discussion from overhead slides, hand out study guides. Day 2: Show first half of video, collect film guides. Day 3: Finish notes and discussion from overhead slides, conclusion. Day 4: Finish showing video, collect film guides and study guides.

Day 1

Introduction

  1. White-tailed deer, beauty or beast?
  2. Beauty? After watching a buck in velvet crossing your favorite trout stream? Seeing a small group warms you as they run by while you set shivering at your favorite deer-hunting stand? Seeing a small fawn waiting behind its mother to cross a rural road?
  3. Beast? Watching some of the same deer munching on freshly sprouting plants in your garden? Finding your expensive ornamental shrubs browsed down to the stem and deer tracks leading away? After calling your insurance company to report that you just hit a deer with the car you bought yesterday?
  4. For this lesson, we will discuss the biology of the white-tailed deer, their reproductive patterns, their habitat, history of deer in Pennsylvania, their value as a resource and conflicts with the human population. We will also discuss the concepts of population biology, management techniques, and the issues which may reflect on our opinions of the white-tailed deer.

Presentation

  1. Use overhead slides to discuss this lesson, concentrating on white-tailed deer natural history, history of deer in Pennsylvania, value of deer as a natural resource, and conflicts between deer and humans.
  2. Hand out wildlife notes and study guides, which are to be completed and turned in before the end of the lesson.

Day 2

  1. Hand out video guides , which are to be completed while watching video.
  2. Show the first 37 minutes of the video Pennsylvania Whitetails .
  3. Collect video guides.

Day 3

Presentation

  1. Use overhead slides to finish discussing this lesson, concentrating on carrying capacity, population density, and management of deer in PA.

Conclusion

  1. Although I will finish this lesson by finishing the video on the next class session, I will conclude the discussion today.
  2. Pennsylvania has 29 million acres of total land area, approximately 17 million acres of which are forests and 7 million acres of which are farmland. Pennsylvania is the home of 70 different mammal species and provides habitat for 200 species of birds, all of which must share the land with the deer herd, which gets most of our attention.
  3. The actual loss of deer from all causes; disease, legal hunting, poaching, vehicular collisions, and crop damage kills is over 500,000 annually - and the population continues to expand. This lesson is not only about Pennsylvania, but New York, Maryland, Wisconsin, Missouri, and many other states--their stories are similar.
  4. Effective deer management aims for a deer population level that will allow our environment to be healthy and strike an acceptable balance between deer and people, that is within the cultural carrying capacity. We must find a balance between hunters and a fraction of the public wanting more deer and the farmers and foresters wanting less deer.
  5. The goal of traditional wildlife management has been to manipulate the habitat to suit the wildlife. When managing deer, the population must first be brought under control, before attempting any work on habitats.
  6. Management of deer in the 21st century will be nothing like we have experienced so far. We must allow ourselves to change and break the traditions that have confined deer hunting in Pennsylvania. If not, agencies other than The PA Game Commission will take on the responsibility of managing our deer.

References

Cwynar, Tom (October 1997). "Downtown Deer." Missouri Conservation Magazine.

DuBrock, Calvin W. (2001). Pennsylvania's Deer Management System: Design and Practice Bureau of Wildlife Management, Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Fergus, Chuck. White-Tailed Deer: Wildlife Notes. Bureau of Information & Education. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Game Commission .

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (2001). Deer and Humans. Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Pennsylvania Game Commission. (2001). Pennsylvania White-Tailed Deer and Black Bear Harvest Reports 1915 to 1999. Pennsylvania Game Commission .

Zouwen, Bill Vander (August 1996). "How Deer to Wisconsin?" Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine .

Author

Allen D. McLaughlin, science teacher, Eisenhower High School, Russell, PA