With thanks to Tree Protection Supply and its blog, I just saw the recent deer hunting statistics put out by the Quality Deer Management Association.
In 2009, 3,253,167 anterless deer were harvested along with 2,585,348 antlered deer - for a total of 5,838,515. There are several astounding things about these numbers.
1) Keep in mind that in 1900 the population of whitetail deer in the entire country was about 500,000! Now, half a million deer wasn't the historic population. Historically deer numbers were higher. The estimate of 500,000 was after decades of unregulated hunting, which threatened to wipe out the population entirely. Still, it's an amazing fact that each year hunters harvest more than 10 times the number of deer that existed just over a century ago.
2) These harvest levels are down from previous years. Two factors contribute to this ongoing decline in deer harvest levels: More and more land is in private ownership and is not open for hunting, and there are fewer and fewer hunters; young people simply aren't taking up hunting at the rates they used to.
3) The population of whitetail deer continues to increase. In other words, every year more deer are born than hunters are harvesting.
That fact that the harvest level has declined doesn't mean that there are fewer deer. It means that there are fewer hunters and fewer places open to them to hunt. In short, it means more deer! What has caused the population explosion? First and foremost, deer are creatures of the forest edge - the interface between forest and field. Where there used to be millions of acres of contiguous, undisturbed forest (not a deer's preferred habitat) now there is a patchwork of farms and field - and exponentially more of the edge habitat deer love. Add to that a reduction in predators (replaced only partially by the current largest predator of deer, automobiles), and you have a recipe for unchecked population expansion.
How does this relate to tree tubes? When you see a mature tree, think about this: If that tree is 110 years old it got started at a time where there were half a million deer in entire country. The trees you plant face a world where more than 10 times that number harvested every year, yet the deer population continues to increase! For 2010-2011 the Wisconsin DNR's overwinter population goal is 794,000 deer. Keep in mind, a) that is before the new fawns are born in spring, and b) that goal of 794,000 deer is up 80% over the original goal set in 1960, and c) from 1995 to 2009 the post-hunt estimate averaged 47% above the goal.
This means that the deer herd in Wisconsin is, depending on the time of year, perhaps 3 times the entire population that existed in the USA a century ago. And the situation is more dramatic elsewhere.
It means, in short, that any tree seedling planted without some form of protection doesn't stand a fighting chance. And tree tubes are simply the easiest, most effective and most affordable method of seedling protection available.