It seems I live in a bad neighborhood, roamed by a destructive gang. The authorities are helpless. The gang has become too big and too powerful. When I see the wreck they are making of so many promising young lives, I am strongly tempted to buy a gun.
I’m talking, of course, about the deer herd.
Deer have no natural enemies left, and their too abundant numbers are decimating native plants. Each year, Doug and I lose most of the young native seedlings we put out in an attempt to re-establish a the balance used to exist here.
When deer get hungry, every plant with a tender bud is at great risk. (See our previous prairie plant protectors here and here. ) With them, we can protect a few individuals, whom we hope will multiply.
The deer are like a never-ending plague of locust but especially in the winter and early spring before the agricultural crops are available to the herd.
I hate to see the branch ends chewed off all my young oak saplings and the rare, yellow ladyslipper or compass plant deprived of its chance to flower and set seed. But what makes me see a vivid, blinding red is the site of a healthy, young tree killed by buck rub.
This is not about a deer’s survival.
I’m talking about when the male deer rub their antlers against young trees girdling them and killing them. I had heard that they did it partly because the fuzzy coating on their antlers was itchy. But deer have no more feeling in their antlers than we have in our fingernails. They are killing and maiming young trees merely to mark territory and perhaps to build up their neck muscles for fights with other male deer. Give me a break, testosterone!
Bucks prefer to ruin a tree that is young and flexible. Or put another way, they prey on children. They scrape away the young bark and the green cambium under it. This is where a tree conducts most of its transport, and without it, the tree will die. If part of the cambium is left, the tree may live, but it will be a shadow of its former potential self.
We have managed to protect some particular trees with coverings, and have had good success.
For example, the first spring we owned our land, my daughter and I bought some dry root willows to put in the wet area down by the road. They sprang up into happy little trees full of promise. That winter they were buck rubbed within an inch of their lives. For years they existed as shrubs just a few feet high – every time they started to grow taller, they were buck rubbed back to a bush.
Finally, a few years ago, we ordered some tree shelters from Forestry Suppliers, and we put them around the trunks every fall. Now we are looking forward to the beauty that big willows provide — the first yellow of spring and some of the last soft green in the fall.
The downside is tree shelters are not cheap at $2.55@, and they really stand out as something man-made in the view. To minimize both their cost and ugliness factor, we try to put them on only when they are needed and remove them as soon as the danger of buck rub is past. They are reusable, and they store flat.
Getting the timing right is tricky. This year we guessed wrong (probably lulled into a false sense of security by the very warm autumn) and got the protectors on just a few days too late for the poor ironwood tree we planted this spring. And there is no way to tube our tamaracks. Their branches make it impossible to tube them, but alas, not impossible for the deer to rub them to death. We have lost at least 10 percent of our little grove. When we thin them, we leave some of the less healthy trees at the edge deliberately as sacrificial victims, hoping the deer will spare the rest. Mixed success on that.
What deer damage are you contending with. What is working for you?
Categories: TALES FROM OUR 44 ACRES