By PETTUS READ
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.
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.
The 2011 season marked an important milestone for the program: the donation totals over the life of the program have now generated 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 502,716 meals to hungry Tennesseans and brought in nearly 125,679 pounds 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.
"The white-tailed deer is a healthy, renewable resource that has to be managed, and this program gives hunters a way to donate venison to be prepared by professional butchers and distributed to food banks and soup kitchens across the state," says Matt Simcox, the Federation's statewide Hunters for the Hungry coordinator.
"Tennessee hunting and fishing licenses expire at the end of February, and we hope people will take advantage of the opportunity to give a dollar to Hunters for the Hungry when renewing those licenses. One dollar can provide four meals to hungry Tennesseans." The fastest way to donate is through the TWF's website at www.tnwf.org<http://e2.ma/click/9it1b/h5rlu/dqx0o>.
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.
--Pettus L. Read is editor of Tennessee Home & Farm magazine and Tennessee Farm Bureau News. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org