Relative deer density and sustainability: A conceptual framework for integrating deer management with ecosystem management

David S. DeCalesta, Susan L. Stout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Controversy surrounding the management of white-tailed deer populations in the United States has grown nearly as rapidly as deer populations themselves. Management paradigms based on the jumble of ecological and political definitions of carrying capacity have failed to resolve these conflicts, while obscuring important relationships among ecosystem elements. Sustaining the forests on which deer depend requires a new conceptual framework for management. We propose managing deer for substainability of ecosystems, using RDD, or relative deer density (deer density as a percent of K), as the framework. This framework replaces the variety of old carrying capacity concepts: sustained yield of maximum numbers of deer for harvest and sustained yield of timber. All of these can be expressed in the common currency of RDD, which would help clarify apparent differences when data are collected on landscapes with differing carrying capacities. Instead of a management target based on an often value-and-conflict-ridden assessment of deer impacts and deer population dynamics, the RDD framwork focuses attention on the interactions of deer and other ecosystem elements. Stakeholders can focus on what information is needed to define relationships locally and plan management to sustain critical elements - for wildlife habitat conservation, plant community conservation, or the conservation of deer habitat over the long term. However, these concepts offer no panacea for conflict-weary managers because they demonstrate clearly that RDD s is <1/3 the RDD associated with maximum sustained yield of deer for hunter harvest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-258
Number of pages7
JournalWildlife Society Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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