GAME Surpluses Perplex Wild-Life Guardians

Accustomed as we are to think of game as requiring protection, it may seem incredible that under certain conditions it can become locally overabundant. As nature lovers we are prone to overlook practical problems in game conservation, and some of these are so vital that our oversight has at times defeated our main purpose. In protecting game from overhunting, natural enemies, and disease we sometimes fail through ignorance to provide an adequate supply of that prime essential to all living creatures—food.

Some of the methods employed in the successful handling of domestic animals are applicable in wild-life management. No wise farmer would long attempt to maintain more livestock in a pasture than could subsist there. Similarly, game stocks should not be permitted to increase until they consume more than the normal seasonal forage growth. With the more palatable plants injured or killed and the normal producing capacity of their range diminished, part of the game will face starvation unless their numbers are correspondingly reduced.

FIG. 105.—Starving elk. A splendid bull in Jackson Hole, Wyo., still alive, but too weak to rise from its last bed. Hundreds of elk had browsed the willows until the thick stems would yield little more than wood pulp. In such a place all the elk died of starvation, whereas a smaller number might have wintered well

An excessive stock of game may accumulate even when parts of its range are open to hunting. This is illustrated in the region about the Yellowstone, where elk have starved by thousands during severe winters, although feed for them is provided at the adjacent elk refuge of the Biological Survey. Following several disastrous winters, the latest in 1919, they have increased to an unwieldly number.  This asset may thus become a liability in the next hard winter by a disastrous reduction of the herds to smaller numbers than would have survived under wiser management.

A striking example of the baneful results of overstocking a refuge from which emigration is negligible is afforded in the Kaibab National Forest. Here the destruction of forage and young forest growth by excessive numbers of mule deer presents a serious problem that efforts of the Forest Service and cooperating bureaus have thus far failed to solve.

Overabundant Buffalo

On the big-game preserves maintained by the Biological Survey the increasing numbers of buffalo and elk have made the disposal of a surplus imperative, to prevent the lowering of forage production and the consequent starving of the animals. Since no hunting can be permitted in such places, reduction is accomplished mainly through the capture and sale of animals for stocking or exhibition purposes.  In the winter of 1924-25 a surplus of 221 buffalo was removed from the National Bison Range in Montana, and the next winter 388 surplus elk were shipped alive from the same reservation.

The overstocking of well-located game refuges that are not too large may usually be prevented by regulated hunting outside. On larger preserves, or on those from which there is little or no overflow, hunting or reducing the surplus by other means may be of vital importance to the residue.  Efforts to conserve and increase wild-animal life frequently call for wise control measures, including disposal of surplus stock for the welfare of the numbers that it is desired to maintain. Wild-life resources properly utilized will yield the maximum of economic and recreational returns.


FIG. 106.—Apple orchard damaged by deer. The lower branches are killed by repeated cropping of deer from an adjacent State deer range in Pennsylvania that has become overstocked