Green Fire's Name
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger itch. I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.
From “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold is known as “the father of wildlife management” in America. As “Thinking Like a Mountain” testifies, he changed the way he judged deer - from recreational opportunities to destroyers of mountains and ranges. In doing so, he changed the way he judged wolves - from destroyers of deer to protectors of mountains and ranges that sustain both wolf and deer.
Now, in the absence of predators to protect our forests, it is time that suburban residents change the way we judge deer.
GreenFire can not bring back the wolves. But we will renew the “fierce green fire” with the best replacement we can devise: skilled and respectful hunters working with property owners exercising their duty of care for natural resources in their possession.
Green Fire's Vision
Green Fire will foster coordination between hunters, landowners, and our other partners with a vision of achieving:
• healthy forests, healthy wildlife, and healthy people
• property owners who are educated and motivated to practice habitat stewardship
• home buyers of the future who consider quality of wildlife habitat to be a measure of property value
• a wildlife management model for other suburban communities to adopt.
Green Fire’s Mission
Second only to conversion of forest and fields to urban uses, the greatest threat to habitat quality and wildlife diversity in eastern North America’s suburbs is over-abundant deer. Indeed, the impacts of deer over-abundance are so key to forest structure and species diversity that the success of most other wildlife habitat improvements is contingent on reducing deer numbers. Because deer occupy ranges of a few square miles or less during their lifetimes, deer harvests by individual landowners will not control deer populations over a wide area. Community-wide harvests and collaborative efforts to guide, implement, and monitor the harvests are required.
By 1900 almost all deer were gone from Virginia due to market and subsistence hunting. There were no deer remaining in Fairfax County. Predators had been nearly (bear, bobcat) or completely (mountain lion, wolf) extirpated in Virginia by this time.
Hunters encouraged Virginia to establish the Virginia Game Commission in 1916. From 1926 through 1950 the Game Commission imported deer from 11 other states as far west as Iowa, and restocked them primarily west of the Blue Ridge. By 1950 the northern Piedmont still had few if any deer.
Between 1950 and 1970, deer repopulated most of Virginia. Hunters became the primary control on deer population growth. Bag and season limits established by the Game Commission were set to increase the deer herds while satisfying hunters’ demands for recreational opportunities.
In response to increasing housing densities, suburban counties and municipalities restricted use of rifles and shotguns. Archers were few, and archery equipment was not as accurate or powerful as today’s compound bows and crossbows. The result was a deer population explosion. Vehicle collisions became the primary control on deer populations with about four times more deaths from collisions than from hunting. By 2007, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, successor to the Game Commission, declared: “Over much of the past decade, the highest private land deer population densities in Virginia have been found in far Northern Virginia.” [i]
Some measures have been taken to increase hunting of deer in Virginia’s suburbs:
• Crossbows were allowed first for handicapped persons, then for everyone allowing more people to safely participate in harvests.
• An Urban Archery Season was allowed that extended the deer hunting season to include September, January, February, March, and April for antlerless deer.
• Out-of-season harvests for antlerless deer were permitted during the remainder of the year where damage from deer could be demonstrated.
But regulatory and technology improvements have not proved sufficient. Deer damages to property, people and habitat plus inhumane injury of deer on our highways continue at unacceptable levels.
There remain multiple challenges to harvesting deer in numbers sufficient to achieve and maintain control of deer and deer damages in the long term. To meet the challenges, changes are needed:
• Gauge hunting pressure by monitoring the damages they cause, not by hunter satisfaction, harvest quotas, or deer densities.
• Allow only hunters who demonstrate the highest respect for deer, property, and property owners to participate in suburban deer harvests. Sustainability of deer harvests in developed areas is totally dependant on mutual respect among landowners and hunters.
• Deer management in suburbs requires more than harvests – it also requires monitoring deer activity and damages; educating property owners, hunters, and the general public; and funding these additional activities.
• Respect the values of people who oppose lethal control of deer to the maximum extent practicable consistent with the goal of controlling deer damages (see Animal Welfare Concerns).
• Recognize landowners as the principle responsible parties in all phases of the effort. Landowners are the primary beneficiaries of controlling deer damages and they control access to property for hunting. Landowners’ contributions of time, money, and access to property are essential to meeting the challenges.
These changes can be implemented by Green Fire, property owners, and skilled, respectful archers within the existing regulatory framework in Virginia and Fairfax County. Regulatory improvements that may be recognized during implementation will be raised with legislators and regulatory agencies.
Green Fire is dedicated to the proposition that property owners and archers can collaborate to control the damages that deer cause to people, property, and habitat. Together
• We will objectively analyze the challenges to meeting that goal,
• We will devise and implement effective means of meeting the challenges at the lowest, long term cost, and
• We will learn as we succeed, and succeed because we learn.
[i] Wildlife Division, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. June 2007. Virginia Deer Management Plan, 2006 – 2015, Wildlife Information Publication No. 07-1. Link: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/management-plan/