Lessons from Travels: The Reineman Sanctuary Deer

by Carl Strang

My first job after completing my Ph.D. was Assistant Professor of Biology at Dickinson College in south central Pennsylvania. One of my responsibilities as the college’s ecologist was to manage the Florence Jones Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary. The property occupies several thousand acres on one of the folded Appalachians. The biggest challenge to the ecological integrity of the preserve was that control of its deer population was prohibited. The property was purchased by the estate of Ms. Reineman, whose will indicated that no killing of deer or other wildlife was permitted, and the lawyers representing the estate insisted that this stipulation could not be violated. The result was a grotesquely depauperate forest.

Evident in the photo is the browse line, indicating the vegetation stripped by the deer beneath the tree canopy. The white flowers are a pure stand of a poisonous plant, white snakeroot, which the deer would not eat.

True, there were a few other plants scattered on the forest floor. In addition to the white snakeroot there were patches of hay-scented ferns, as well as scattered moccasin flower orchids and spotted wintergreen plants.

Moccasin flower

Spotted wintergreen

Compared to a healthy forest, this was a desert punctuated by trees. Even the fawns had no place to hide.

This young fawn contrasted dramatically with the leaf litter. A healthy forest would have some plants to give it better concealment.

Here in northeast Illinois, most land management agencies including the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County keep deer densities low enough that ecosystem diversity and integrity is sustained. I was here when deer populations rose to the point where the District instituted the program. It was clear that there were too many deer, and they were causing harm. Now we still have plenty of deer, but also the diversity of plants, insects, birds and other animals essential to healthy ecosystems. The contrast with the depauperate Reineman Sanctuary could not be plainer.


  1. Hal Atherton said,

    November 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

    It would be nice if deer ate mustard garlic.

    • natureinquiries said,

      November 8, 2012 at 7:00 am

      I’m with you, Hal. I have thought that it would be handy to have genetically engineered deer that could eat only buckthorn, honeysuckle and garlic mustard.

      • Hal Atherton said,

        November 8, 2012 at 8:11 am

        When will you start working on that?

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