Blogs by James W. Nelson
Room for all? Not quite Part 1 The Deer
10/16/2011 6:59:16 AM
Room for all? Not quite. Part 1 The Deer
Eleven years have passed since I moved here to the “outback.” I say “outback” because on the other side of the highway begins what’s known locally as The Sandhills. Some of those hills—not mountains—get very high and wildlife is prolific.
When I arrived my plan was to live and let live. I wanted only to watch the parade of nature and plant trees and flowers and try to “improve” nature. Well, I planted the trees and flowers and a garden…not everything was eaten, but close.
I arrived in September, not a good time to start building a new home on raw ground. By “raw” I mean there was no electricity, no water, nothing, but this entry is not to be about those problems.
That first fall I went down to the marsh and dug out seventeen cottonwoods (my favorite tree) each four to six feet high and planted them on both sides of my driveway. I say “driveway” but for a few years it was just a track through the grass. One track came straight in, which normal people used, the other I called The Scenic Route, which wound around and over my little sandhills, and required a more adventuresome soul to traverse. The track that came straight in I recently have added gravel.
Anyway, that very first winter the deer went right down the row of cottonwoods and ate at least a foot from the top growth of every single one! I didn’t even notice the damage till the following spring. And that spring I planted several spruce and pines. I figured an evergreen would taste somewhat bitter so the deer wouldn’t bother them. I was wrong. White-tailed deer are browsers. That means, like a goat, they will eat anything, almost. They didn’t bother Oriental poppies or Dianthus. Anyway, the following winter they ate just the newest buds on the evergreens. So, as with the cottonwoods, the trees didn’t die but they were set back, at least two years. And in following years, as the trees grew, the deer, starting in August, would strip the larger—usually Ponderosa Pine—branches while cleaning the drying velvet off their antlers, so they would be in top shape when the rutting season arrived.
Well, I couldn’t shoot the deer, and I did want to live with them, so what was I to do? I couldn’t be planting trees every spring just to feed the deer. And therein lies a problem. In this part of the country there are no large predators. I mean we expect people in Africa to live with lions, and people in India to live with tigers, but here in eastern North Dakota some people whine if they see even a coyote, let alone a mountain lion or a bear, two large predators that could bring down a deer.
No, here the top predator is the human hunter, and he/she is allowed only one. So the deer eat everything and many die of starvation in the winter. I guess they, like the grasshopper in Aesop’s Fables, also didn’t listen to the ant, and stock up for the winter. (That was Aesop, right?)
So, anyway, I had to do something to protect my trees. Over the eleven years I’ve been here I have planted at least 1000 trees on my seven sandy dry acres—and carried hundreds/thousands of gallons of water to them, to start, in the early years, water that I dipped out of ditches with two-gallon pails, and then carried to each tree in five-gallon pails, and gave each tree—weekly—a five-quart ice cream pail of water. Now I collect water in tanks from runoff from my house. Much less work.
So, yes, all that work required some payback.
The solution: Each tree required its own chicken wire fence, and changing the fences from small ones to larger ones as the trees grew. Well, that stopped the deer, almost, as the fences have to get higher and higher, too, as the trees grow. I also have about a dozen Basswood trees. They have large round leaves that must be quite tasty a certain time of the summer. This year the deer not only wrecked some of the fences but once the tree was unprotected they ate the leaves they could reach, then actually stood on their hind legs (I haven’t actually observed that except on TV) stripped the higher branches down, and broke them, to get to the higher leaves.
That didn’t kill them but really damaged them. I repaired everything, built higher fences and in another year some of the trees will actually be out of reach. Think I sometimes don’t want to lay for the little bastards? Yes, I do. But I don’t.
One more thing: Have you ever heard a lost kitten mewing…somewhere? This summer I did, so I stood and listened again and again and finally thought I knew where it was coming from: A narrow path through tall grass down the hill from my house. So I moved a little closer and what should appear? A baby deer! A tiny thing, a double handful, and as I watched it came forth with that sound. Before that moment I had never heard a deer make a sound. It looked at me, took a couple extra-hurried steps, then continued on its way, evidently looking for its mother. No, I didn’t interfere. Later this summer I saw both the mother and the growing fawn. Just so you know, this mother uses my land as her nursery. I see her new baby at least once almost every summer.
In the end, I suspect she—or her kind—was here long before me. So I accept the deer; in future installments you will meet some creatures I accept less.
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More Blogs by James W. Nelson
My Free Reads at Amazon: The Facts - Wednesday, December 21, 2011
My Free Reads at Amazon - Saturday, December 10, 2011
Room for all (Not quite) Part 2 - Sunday, October 30, 2011
A Gaggle of Geese - Saturday, October 22, 2011
Room for all? Not quite Part 1 The Deer - Sunday, October 16, 2011
My days on the eastern edge of eastern North Dakota's Outback - Friday, October 14, 2011