If anti-hunters ever have their way in the United States and recreational hunting ceases to exist, will wildlife species truly benefit from being left alone, as the "antis" claim?
Not true, according to a man who has studied wildlife and its behavior for nearly a lifetime.
"The first thing that will happen is that deer populations will explode and literally eat themselves out of the woods," said veteran South Carolina wildlife biologist Robert Gooding.
"We are seeing that occur today at places where no hunting is allowed -- like Hilton Head Island and to a lesser extent, Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick County where electric fences have been erected to keep deer away from the shrubbery," Gooding said.
"Officials on Hilton Head are already starting to look at alternate methods of deer population controls, such as having limited archery hunts."
The only way to control wildlife populations -- legally and as humanely as possible -- is through recreational hunting. In the case of deer, state wildlife agencies set up "doe days" each season, the only way numbers can be controlled.
"Once there is no more food in the woods, deer will invade the suburbs to browse. Die-offs will occur because not enough food will be available and starvation will weaken the animals' constitutions," the biologist said.
Gooding said other wildlife species such as wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and bobwhite quail, as well as nongame species, also would be negatively affected if hunting and hunters become extinct.
South Carolina's whitetail herd, estimated at 1.2 million animals, costs people about $100 million a year, said Webb Smathers, an associate professor of agricultural economics at Clemson University.
A 1991 Clemson study said the state lost $52.4 million in deer damage, almost 8 percent of South Carolina's crops. "Some people think that's low," said Gary Spiers, a South Carolina Farm Bureau spokesman. "The damage is severe, and it's just getting worse."
There were a record 5,904 car-deer collisions in 1996, injuring 404 people and averaging about $1,400 in damage per vehicle, the South Carolina Insurance News Service said.
Charles Ruth, head of the S.C. DNR's deer project, said the animals are creeping into back yards more frequently. Biologists say deer are very adaptable to where people live, making lawns and golf courses good grazing grounds.
The true picture of what happens when hunting is no more will soon emerge in Great Britain, whose parliament has been persuaded by anti-hunting factions to ban fox and other hunting with hounds. The nation's hunters never organized against the ban until it was too late.
A ban on all types of fishing is next. One group -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) -- has already petitioned the U.S. Forest Service to ban fishing on all bodies of water in the national forests.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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