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University of Illinois Extension serving Madison, Monroe and St. Clair Counties

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Phone: 618-939-3434
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Scott Air Force Base, IL 62225
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News Release

The Need for Hunting

All creatures modify their habitats to better meet their needs. Some make major modifications - like beavers - and some make minor changes - like moles. Humans are no exception to this. They fall under the type of creature that makes major changes to their habitats. Humans replace forests and prairies with cities and agriculture fields. This displaces different animal species, posing a threat to our crops, livestock or a perceived threat to our health. The displacement of predators that are seen as a threat is one of the reasons hunting is an important part of conserving natural habitats. 

Predator and prey species have a relationship that is very dependent on each other. When one is removed from an ecosystem, the other struggles and this can have dire consequences on the habitat in general. The removal of predators has a very significant effect on the habitat. When a major predator (wolfs or mountain lions) is removed from a habitat, it allows the prey species (deer) population to expand rapidly. This then has a negative effect on the entire habitat. As deer numbers increase, more of the vegetation is consumed until all of the vegetation that is within reach of the deer is gone. This in turn reduces the number of other species that you might find in the habitat. The significant reduction in plants increases erosion in the habitat creating water quality issues affecting fish and amphibians. Without an understory, there are no hiding spots for birds and small mammals. Also as deer populations expand, the likeliness of automobile accidents involving deer increases. Hunting provides an important control of population numbers of deer in habitats where the natural predators have been removed. In addition to helping to reduce automobile accidents, hunters help to increase biodiversity in the areas around their chosen hunting ground. Predators would have also helped to keep the genetic diversity within a deer population at a healthy level. This allows for new genetic material to move into an area by removing an older dominant buck, and letting new males from outside to move into the area. Hunters do the same thing when they remove that “trophy buck” from an area. 

Predators have a huge impact on their habitats, and they are an important part of the ecosystems in which they function. The biggest evidence of this comes from Yellowstone National Park. Before wolves were reintroduced to the park, elk herds were large and biodiversity within the park was lower than it should have been. After the wolves were reintroduced, some major changes began to take place. The presence of the wolves helped to reduce the number of elk. This in turn increased biodiversity in the park. The wolves had an unexpected effect on the environment in the park, as well. The increase in biodiversity and increased soil stability actually changed the course of the Yellowstone River. The natural control of the elk herds in the park allowed the river to return to its normal movement rather than the “natural channelization” that had occurred over the previous nearly 100 years.

Hunters have an important role to play in the environment when predators have been removed. They are needed to take the place of the creatures that have been removed.

For more information about natural resources and natural resource conservation, please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).

University of Illinois Extension · U.S. Department of Agriculture · Local Extension Councils Cooperating

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Source: Jason Haupt, Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship, jdhaupt@illinois.edu