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Retired Professor: Wisconsin Deer Management In ‘Crisis’


A retired UW-Madison professor believes Wisconsin has a crisis in deer management.

During a presentation at the Science in the Northwoods conference this month in Woodruff, Don Waller, the former John Curtis Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies, said the state has about two million deer.

That’s more than any time in about 10,000 years.

It’s an issue because deer eat about seven pounds of plants per day..

“Although we all delight in seeing deer—it’s the only big mammal most of us are likely to see—too many deer can be a problem and are being a problem,” Waller said.  “They’re decimating our forest understories, making it a much less diverse and interesting place.”

Waller said some of Wisconsin’s forest are at risk of turning into savannas with few trees.

Three state parks have already lost more than half of their plant species.

“If oaks, if white pines, if yellow birch and hemlock and northern white cedar cannot regenerate, these are all species that were once major components of our forests, we’re really shifting the composition of the forest for decades or even hundreds of years to come,” Waller said.

Waller said hunters need to do more to help control the herd.

“In the absence of cougar and wolves in many parts of the state, human hunters are the only real control on the deer herd.  If they don’t take that job seriously, if they don’t take that job responsibly and understand that ecological role, they may not take enough deer, or they may take bucks instead of does in a way that limits how effectively we can manage deer,” he said.

A large deer herd also leads to the spread of chronic wasting disease and Lyme disease.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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