A very common sight these days along Tennessee’s rural roadways is the sudden image of flickering bright white tails of deer as they spring across farm fences and the almost chorus line formation of large numbers of wild turkeys stopping traffic to cross roads as if they were in a parade. These sights are something that wildlife enthusiasts view as beauty and Tennessee’s farmers and property owners see as problems.
Having been born and raised on a farm in Middle Tennessee, the sight of a deer or turkey is still somewhat of a novelty to me. I never saw a deer in the cornfield until the late 1980s and a turkey walking across the garden has only materialized in the last few years. On top of that, if you add the abundance of coyotes that howl outside my backdoor each night and the possibility of some person under the cover of darkness in our area trying to get wild pigs to populate our quite wooded knob, I had just as soon return to the 1960s when the only animals we worried about eating our crops were the raccoons.
For several years now damage to field crops, home gardens, landscaping, farm livestock and not to mention the millions of dollars of damage involved in automobile accidents from deer has continued to increase. The reported amounts of damage have varied across the board depending on who or what agency was doing the reporting.
Deer are still found to be the major cause of field crop losses; coyotes for livestock and poultry losses; and deer, turkeys and other wildlife for losses of vegetables, fruits and nuts.
It has been found that in the area of field crops, deer were reported to do 58 percent of the damage, with turkeys doing 6 percent and other wildlife accounting for 22 percent. Coyotes were responsible for 57 percent of the damage to livestock and poultry, with deer being the main wild animal damaging vegetables, fruits and nuts.
How can we reduce these losses? One way to help cut down on the problem and to help feed the hungry at the same time is to continue to support hunting in our state and to also get involved in the Hunters For The Hungry program sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. Through this program, hunters and meat processors fight hunger by providing properly prepared venison to food banks and soup kitchens across the state.
TWF reports that when the deer season ends next January, TWF’s Hunters for the Hungry program expects to have provided more than three million meals to hungry families across the state through donated venison. TWF began operating the program in 1999, and the impact has grown steadily ever since. It’s a reliable source of protein that many food banks and soup kitchens otherwise wouldn’t have, and venison is rich in vitamins and minerals with one third of the fat of beef. One deer can provide an average of 160 meals.
Last year the group provided more than 445,000 meals to hungry Tennesseans and brought in nearly 56 tons of professionally processed donated venison. It is estimated that there are approximately 750,000 hunters statewide and with more participation in this program, even more hungry people can be fed within our state. “This program is one of the most unique and cost-effective ways to feed hungry people with a healthy, renewable resource,” says Matt Simcox, TWF’s Hunters for the Hungry coordinator. “Funding is the challenge. We can provide a meal for an average of 25 cents, and we want the public to know that everyone can support the program through donations that fund processing or by harvesting an extra deer or two and dropping it off at a participating butcher.” The fastest way to donate is through the TWF’s website at www.tnwf.org.
Wildlife contributes to the beauty of Tennessee and Tennessee’s farmers contribute over 75 percent of the habitat for our wildlife. It is important that we keep a reasonable balance between wildlife numbers and public acceptance of those numbers. If it cost 25 cents a day to feed a deer, then Tennessee’s landowners are spending $75.5 million per year just to feed the current deer population. And that is a very conservative estimate, which does not include all of the other wildlife that also must eat.
When do we reach our limit of wildlife? I don’t have that number, but if numbers continue to increase in Tennessee, those magic numbers are rapidly approaching on the horizon.
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org