The bright rump of a white-tailed deer, the snow white chinstrap of a Canada goose: both are common sites in Piscataway Park, present here year-round. Even when the animals themselves are elusive, the tracks of a deer’s graceful step or a goose’s awkward-on-land waddle can be found in our muddy fields. But as deer over-graze forests and landscaped lawns, as geese damage agricultural crops and overload waterways with their droppings, some have come to consider the creatures a nuisance, and management methods have become hot topics for neighborhoods and natural resource groups alike.
But the white-tailed deer and Canada goose have played significant parts in Maryland’s history. Evidence of deer hunting, for instance, abounds: Indians hunted deer for food, clothing, and tools, turning hide, sinew, and bone into aprons, thread, and needles. European colonists hunted deer for meat and for buckskin, supplying themselves with clothing and Great Britain’s leather industry with imported hides. And African-American slaves in the Chesapeake hunted often, supplementing rations with wild game, raised fowl, and cultivated vegetables.
While habitat loss and over-hunting once contributed to sharp declines in deer and in geese, populations of deer and resident Canada geese—distinct from those migratory flocks that nest in northern Canada—have in recent decades rebounded, becoming perhaps too abundant. In this region, humans have reshaped the landscape, expanding suburbia’s lawns and gardens, golf course ponds, and bans on hunting and, in so doing, creating new homes for deer and geese alike, filled with food, shelter, and an unfortunate dose of human/creature conflict. Our own Conservation Pond is filled with a number of resident geese, and little groups of downy goslings have this month been spotted all over the park, from the livestock pastures to the pond that leads up to the Pawpaw Trail.
Despite their commonness, these animals are no less gratifying to see in the park, foraging for food in forests and fields or raising their next generation of young. On your next visit, take a moment to appreciate the ordinary, whether it is the white-tailed deer, the Canada goose, or something else whose regular appearance on your outdoor walks does nothing to diminish its worth.
Trail Treks is a monthly column that explores the walking trails in Piscataway Park. This year, we will highlight the Pawpaw Trail, which is located at the western end of our grounds and leads through a mature forest. Look for more reflections from the Pawpaw Trail as 2012 progresses.