The Transylvania Times -

Whitmire Talks About The History Of Wildlife Management - Brevard NC


November 19, 2018

David Whitmire gave a presentation on the history of game in Pisgah National Forest during the recent Transylvania Natural Resources Council (TNRC) meeting.

Whitmire, a TNRC member and the N.C. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council chairman, focused on the white tail deer and its declining population. Whitmire said he and his organization want to make sure that people understand the history of the area in terms of wildlife management, going all the way back to the Cherokee and how the Native Americans managed the forest for not only themselves but for the benefit of wildlife, which impacted their livelihood.

The land that is now Pisgah National Forest was once Cherokee hunting grounds, but they also cultivated this land through controlled burns. The burning of large areas was useful to divert big game, such as deer, elk and bison, into small unburned areas for easier hunting and to provide open prairies and meadows, rather than brush and tall trees, where animals – including ducks and geese – like to dine on fresh, new grass sprouts. Fire was also used to drive game into impoundments, narrow chutes, into rivers or lakes, or over cliffs, where the animals could be killed easily. Some tribes used a surround fire to drive rabbits into small areas. The Seminoles even practiced hunting alligators with fire. Torches were used to spot deer and attract or see fish at night. Smoke was used to drive/dislodge raccoons and bears from hiding.

Whitmire said that burning was also used to harvest crops, such as tarweed, yucca and greens. Fire was further used to prevent abandoned fields from growing over and to clear land for planting corn and tobacco, as well as to improve growth in crops and to improve grass for big game and their horses.

Fire, Whitmire said, was used as a form of economic extortion against the settlers and fur traders who had moved into Cherokee territory, preventing them from easy access to big game.

“The impact they had on the landscape was huge,” Whitmire said. “They managed the forest, burnt the land, girdled trees. I fully believe a lot of the Chestnut trees we saw in these mountains were from them planting those trees. It was their staple, and it provided excellent food for wildlife. The Cherokee and other Native Americans were the first managers of the forests.”

After the Cherokee were driven from their lands, the transition to the era of the long hunters came along. Puncheon Camp Mountain in Toxaway was one of the most famous camps, with Jim Fisher being among the most famous of the hunters.

“Detrimental to the wildlife was the long hunters and market hunting, long before sustained yield was in peoples’ vocabulary,” Whitmire said. “In 1750, the biggest exports from the port of Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., the two biggest exports, were rice and deer hides. The economy of the South was built on wildlife.”

Whitmire said that by the time George Vanderbilt purchased what is now Pisgah National Forest, game preserves had been established and that local hunters could not just go out and hunt wherever the liked.

They had to hunt in established preserves.

The whitetail deer’s plight in Western North Carolina mountains is well documented, according to Whitmire.

By the early 1900s, it estimated that there were 500,000 deer left in all of the United States and fewer than 1,000 deer could be found in Georgia.

The Pisgah Preserve was established in 1917, which was created to expand the white tail deer population.

Many of these deer were used to stock other parts of the country.

The first deer from the preserve went to Georgia in 1927. From the preserve’s creation, the oldest white tail deer study in the nation, the Ruff Study, was conducted by Frederick Ruff and is still used today.

A digital copy of the study is available at the Transylvania County library.

On July 15, 1937, Ruff submitted his original copy of “The Whitetail Deer of the Pisgah National Game Preserve.”

Ruff was the assistant forester and the bulk of his study was done in Transylvania County in the Pisgah District of Pisgah National Forest.

The report was driven by the success of the Pisgah Game Preserve formed in 1917, when the deer herd population had increased to the point where reduction or regulation was needed.

As the U.S. Forest Service (FS) was mainly a land management and forestry agency, rangers found it important to expand its field to include other natural resources, in particular wildlife.

At that point, there was no state agency that was responsible for wildlife. The study directive was to increase the FS knowledge of the more specialized principles pertaining to game management.

“The first responsible party for the wildlife was called the N.C. State of Conservation and Development, a precursor to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC),” Whitmire said.

In 1947, the NCWRC was created to handle all wildlife concerns, from regulations to enforcement.

Whitmire said that a quick look at deer density today shows there are less than .03 bucks per square mile in the mountains on public lands, taking into account on private land it is probably more like 15 per square mile.

Whitmire said there needs to be more “young forest” in the mountains, which his organization calls for in the Pisgah Plan Revision, the ongoing management plan that is currently being studied and rewritten as required by Congress for all national forests every 15-20 years. Whitmire said the FS has told his organization that they can expect 50 percent of the forest to remain as is, in an old growth state, but he said it’s important what could be done with the remaining 50 percent.

He said that looking at the inventoried areas in the plan revision, wildlife openings and the complex of old roads in the forest could be better managed for wildlife habitat and for the sustainability of the trail network.

“These are areas where the wildlife commission has gone in and planted rye or clover to help the wildlife there,” Whitmire said. “These are opening, but, of course, a lot of them haven’t been maintained and they’re growing in. It’s not just about deer, though. Turkey has done well. In the 1970s, we didn’t see much turkey, but we have seen a booming population. They just don’t live in the big woods all the time.”

Whitmire said that he is more worried about the grouse population, as upstate South Carolina is at the farthest point south of their range and as climate change continues to create hotter summers, causing the grouse to lose habitat.

“I worry more about this than any of the game species we have,” he said. “Deer will walk out of the forest if they need food, so will the bear. They’ll come get in your trashcan, but the grouse is not going to do that. If his habitat is gone, he’s eventually going to die off. They don’t move or migrate like the others. This is breaking news, but the wildlife commission is looking at grouse blood samples. We have West Nile disease affecting some birds in Pennsylvania. A lot of this is from climate change. If your climate is warmer, there’s more mosquitoes. We need to keep these populations healthy, so they can survive West Nile.”

Whitmire said his organization has identified 5,334 acres of forest across the mountains that are in need of restoration, and 84 of those acres are existing wildlife openings.

He said he and the wildlife commission have discussed “daylighting” those existing openings, meaning trimming them back, creating more young forest. He said they would like to cut them back an additional 200 feet, and that with today’s technology, such as side mowers and mulchers, it could be easily maintained.

“We’d like to do the same thing on the 63 miles of linear openings and cut them back 75 feet on either side of those roads and connect them,” Whitmire said. “This could serve other benefits, as well. For example, when they host these mountain bike races and they get here and it’s raining, these folks have paid money and drove from all over the country to get here. Let’s get them off of the single-track and connect these roads and keep people off the trails during these events. We can create linear openings at the same time and benefit the wildlife.”

(More from the TNRC meeting will appear in Thursday’s edition.)


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