What we do not see in the cutover

When conducting a browse survey on an area it is sometimes beneficial to take note of the plants you are not seeing in the survey as well as those that you are finding.

If oak regeneration was lacking in the understory before the cut, you probably will not be seeing oak regeneration on the survey after the cut, and this may lead you to do some under-planting of oak trees.

If the canopy has been closed for a long period of time and seed production of the desired trees has been poor, there may not be a seed source for the new forest. On the McElroy tract in Clinton there is a good component of acorn-producing trees still standing, so a seed source is available for more oak trees.

In the survey on the McElroy tract, I did not find any elderberry. Elderberry is a woody shrub that is very prolific, reproducing from seeds and root sprouts, and is an excellent deer browse. In fact, deer can over-browse the shrub and limit the growth of it on a tract of land. I have observed this for many years; if the only elderberry found growing on a tract of land is growing in a location where deer cannot get to it, you probably have a good population of deer on your habitat.

The lack of elderberry on the McElroy tract is a result of two factors: a closed forest canopy (elderberry grows best in open sunlight) and high deer numbers.

On our small property just east of Clinton, where the deer numbers are not quite so high, elderberry is growing along the edges of the open fields and is being browsed by deer — not to the point of being over browsed, but we may be getting there.

On the Morganza Tract that has a long history of high deer numbers, elderberry is also lacking, and this is due primarily to the high deer population.

On that survey I found elderberry in only one transect and saw it at one other location. The elderberry was surrounded by a thick growth of vegetation that was protecting it from deer, but the new stems that were being produced and popping up from the ground outside the protective barrier were being hammered by the deer.

There are other plant species that we refer to as indicator species that can aid in determining deer density, but I think elderberry is one of the best. It grows throughout the state in all habitats and, if it is lacking, it is probably due to over-browsing by deer.

If elderberry is growing and regenerating throughout a property, then the deer numbers are probably in balance with the habitat.

But hunters are just like the kids in the commercial where the man asks, “Who thinks more is better than less?”

Most hunters will tell you right away, we want more, but sometimes more is not better than less.

About David Moreland 240 Articles
David Moreland is a retired wildlife biologist with LDWF, having served as the State Deer Biologist for 13 years and as Chief of the Wildlife Division for three years. He and his wife Prudy live in rural East Feliciana Parish.

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