A white-tailed deer crosses a roadway. Credit: Carol Hamilton.

Rhode Island DEM Highlights Hunting’s Crucial Role in Wildlife Conversation and Managing Deer Populations

In a bid to underscore the vital role of hunting in conservation, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is shining a spotlight on the manifold benefits of this age-old tradition. Hunting not only aids in managing deer populations but also serves as a significant source of funding for DEM’s extensive network of wildlife conservation initiatives.

With a rich tradition of hunting deeply ingrained in Rhode Island’s culture, the practice goes beyond a mere recreational activity. It supports family customs, provides locally sourced meat, fosters a connection with nature, and acts as a draw for tourism to the state. DEM’s commitment extends to safeguarding and enhancing wildlife habitats in Rhode Island forests and management areas, ensuring the well-being of diverse and abundant wildlife populations.

White-tailed deer are a common sight in Rhode Island, and regulated hunting has proven to be the most effective, economical, and successful method of controlling their populations. This strategic approach ensures a delicate balance between ecological and social factors, preventing overpopulation-related issues such as agricultural crop losses, resident complaints, and deer vehicle collisions (DVCs).

Dylan Ferreira, Principal Wildlife Biologist in DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), emphasized, “Deer hunting is the most effective and economical option for managing deer populations, and is the primary management tool used by federal, state, and provincial wildlife agencies across North America.” He highlighted the limitations of alternative methods such as translocation and fertility control, citing their cost-prohibitive nature and limited effectiveness.

The issue of deer vehicle collisions (DVCs) poses a public safety risk and can be economically burdensome, averaging approximately $6,717 per collision, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The DEM’s annual Deer, Deer Harvest and Deer Hunter Summary for 2022 reported an increase of ~20% in DVCs compared to the previous year. The DEM aims to address this concern by expanding cooperative hunting agreements with local landowners.

One notable success story is the deer hunting cooperative program initiated with the Town of Bristol in 2022. Facing high rates of both DVCs and resident complaints, Bristol collaborated with DEM to open town-owned parcels for archery-only deer hunting. The result was a significant reduction in DVCs, with Bristol experiencing a 31% decrease from 59 to 41 collisions.

Another public concern revolves around the risk of tick-borne diseases associated with deer. The DEM clarifies that while there is a correlation between deer and ticks, deer are not the source of Lyme disease. Rather, ticks become carriers of Lyme disease through other means, highlighting the complexity of disease transmission.

DEM supports deer hunting through its Hunter Education Program, which emphasizes safety and ethical hunting practices. With over 40,000 people completing the program, Rhode Island has witnessed a reduction in hunting-related accidents. Hunters contribute not only to wildlife conservation but also to the local economy, with the 2022-23 deer hunting season yielding over 32 tons of consumable venison.

Hunters, as law-abiding stewards of natural resources, play a crucial role in funding wildlife conservation. The Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program, fueled by the purchase of firearms, ammunition, and hunting licenses, contributed $7,176,940 to Rhode Island’s wildlife restoration in 2023. This financial support, coupled with hunters’ contributions to the state’s economy, enables DEM to protect acres of wildlife habitat, conduct research, and provide educational outreach.

Without the dedication of legal and responsible hunters, DEM acknowledges that its ability to conserve and protect Rhode Island’s wildlife would be significantly compromised.

Bristol DVC and deer harvest data as of 1/7/2024. *Private land: 23, Cooperative land: 40.




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