Hey Mr. Green,
Since you mentioned the high deer population in a recent column, it seems to me see that commercial harvesting of deer would be a green alternative to feedlot beef and pork production, resulting in lower or zero methane release. At the same time it would help regenerate hardwoods in over-browsed forests. --Ron Blackmore, in Madison, New York
As noted in my environmental classic, Hey Mr. Green, deer are an excellent (and tasty) low-impact source of protein, and hunting does keep their excess population from damaging forests by over-browsing. One interesting example: A few years ago when I was visiting one big wildlife refuge in the deer-rich Midwest, a manager told me they had to take out 8,000 deer to protect the vegetation on its 44,000-acres. Of course commercial hunting is probably not an option, because ordinary deer hunters are already harvesting enough deer to control the population. (Well, yes, this is sometimes a hotly contested point, but if sport hunters were legally allowed to take more, trust me, they would, so there would still not be much room for commercial hunting.)
To illustrate the role of deer as food, let’s consider the deer situation in just one major hunting state, Wisconsin. Hunters take about 350,000 deer in a good year. Figuring that your average deer dresses out at 50 pounds, the hunt would yield about 17.5 million pounds of meat, or around 3 pounds per person per year in the state. Since we eat around 60 pounds of beef per capita per year in the USA, deer in that state alone could supply your typical carnivore roughly 5 percent as much meat as beef does. (And this doesn’t count road kill, which some people actually drag off the road and carve up for consumption. In Wisconsin alone almost 40,000 deer get whacked by vehicles each year. And that’s just the carnage officially recorded by the Department of Natural Resources. Some states have an even higher road kill total.)
But I digress. Deer could provide a much, much higher percent of protein if meat-engorged Americans would cut down on beef, pork, poultry, and fish. We now eat around 200 pounds per person per year, for an average of more than 8.5 ounces per capita per day. Rather excessive when you consider that just 7 ounces of lean hamburger has more than enough protein to meet the recommended daily protein amount of 56 grams for the average adult male, 46 for the average woman, and almost enough for a pregnant woman. We exceed our protein requirements just with the meat and fish we scarf, let alone all that other protein in eggs, dairy, beans, grains, nuts, etc. So if people look like they’re pregnant, it could be because they eat like they’re pregnant. Us carnivores and our environment would be better off if we would cut meat consumption while insisting on environmentally sound, non-polluting production and being willing to pay extra for it. This could greatly reduce the putrid waste from industrialized livestock operations and the toxic runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from crops grown to feed them.
Regarding your concern with methane and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, I do think this hazard has been somewhat exaggerated. Based on figures from a UN Food and Agriculture study, we keep hearing how livestock generates as much as 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gas. But the problem is that this study lumps together the entire world, including foreign gas sources such as deforestation from clearing land to create pasture and cropland for animal fodder. However, in the United States much less-- 3.4%--of the total the global-warming emissions results from livestock, according to a recent study from Cornell University.
So obviously a lot depends on how and where livestock is raised. After all, in some ecosystems, properly managed grazing can be a far more environmentally sound use of land than other agricultural uses. But I hope dig into these intriguing variables in vastly greater detail in future columns and blogs.