Managing the foodscape to alleviate deer browsing
Browsing by deer can degrade forest diversity, impede sustainable management, and threaten forest health across millions of acres of public and private forests in the U.S. Although managing browse impacts is daunting, deer behavior, including browsing, is shaped by the risks and rewards deer experience throughout their home range, including the quantity and quality of forage. Forest Service scientists and their partners are improving understanding of how forage availability throughout the landscape, or the “foodscape,” influences browsing and are developing guidelines managers can use to reduce browse impacts. Researchers measured browse impact to plant diversity in 23 forests in Pennsylvania. For each area, they characterized the foodscape in the surrounding square mile focusing on the abundance of forage-rich and forage-poor habitats. The study found strong signals that foodscapes altered browsing. In foodscapes with abundant forage-rich, early-successional habitat, often created by forestry practices, browse impact waned and ultimately disappeared; conversely, in forage-poor foodscapes browse impact intensified. The research results are significant to a region where deer browsing can depreciate stand values by approximately $1,100 per acre and degrade habitat quality for other values, including wildlife and recreation. These findings reveal that by improving foodscapes, forestry can provide complementary benefits to wildlife, biodiversity, and sustainable management.