With EFI’s new “Deer Observer” project, funded by Velux Stiftung, we aim to understand and communicate the relationship between deer density, natural regeneration, and stakeholder perceptions. Our overall objective is to inspire long-term change by initiating a dialogue between the different stakeholders involved in the deer-forestry-conflict.
How can we create and maintain multifunctional forests in Europe? Forests that meet society’s demand for timber, support high biodiversity, and are resilient to changing climate and disturbance regimes? Recommendations on how those forests should look like are straightforward: Both EU and national policies recommend mixed broad-leaved trees and conifer forests.
However, it is a challenge to establish and maintain such forests. Ungulates, especially deer, selectively browse on many climate-resilient tree species, especially when they are young (e.g. oaks and maples). This affects natural regeneration and alters tree species composition.
Dramatic increases in deer densities in Central Europe since the mid-twentieth century have sparked a heated debate among foresters, hunters, farmers, and the general public regarding deer management. Large predators that can control deer populations such as wolves were eradicated from many parts of Europe. Now that wolves are recolonizing their former range, the debate has become even more complex. This deer-forestry conflict against the backdrop of the wolves’ return is considered a ‘wicked problem’ because it is perceived differently by the stakeholders involved in it.
To address this problem, Deer Observer will conduct research in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany, where wolves are returning. The project has three parts:
- We will undertake field surveys paired with questionnaire surveys with different groups of stakeholders to assess and compare ‘real’ and ‘perceived’ estimates of deer density and browsing impacts on tree regeneration;
- We will analyze how the deer-forestry debate in connection with the wolves returning to the region has been presented in local and regional print and social media;
- We will design communication activities to disseminate our findings through multiple audio-visual mediums to the public and organize a special game-based workshop to encourage interaction between the different stakeholder groups.
With this innovative project, we aim at establishing ecological and societal baselines on deer densities and stakeholder perceptions against which future deer management interventions can be assessed. We will stimulate change by disseminating the findings and facilitating science-informed communication between stakeholders. Finally, we would like to find out if the Deer Observer approach could be upscaled to address wildlife-forestry conflicts in other areas of Germany and beyond.
The Deer Observer project runs from July 2023 to June 2027. Coordinated by EFI, it is implemented in partnership with Wald und Holz NRW and the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change – Museum Koenig Bonn.