Third Annual Long Island Natural History Conference



















Understanding white-tailed deer and their influence on forest vegetation

Thomas J. Rawinski, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, USDA Forest Service

Largely because of human actions and inaction, white-tailed deer populations have skyrocketed in recent decades, especially in eastern Long Island. Many East End forests have been devastated by overabundant deer. Other less-impacted forests, with growing deer herds, may suffer the same fate in the future.

We find ourselves in a snapshot in time. Our forests were much healthier, from a deer impact perspective, three decades ago. Three decades from now, if deer continue to cause tree regeneration failure, will those forests resemble the forests of today? Will those forests have sufficient resilience to recover from the inevitable next hurricane? We must address the deer overabundance issue, without delay, to restore a balance that perpetuates healthy forests and healthy deer for all to enjoy.

Toward that end, this talk will focus on ways that professional and citizen scientists can better understand various levels of deer impact. Numerous photographs will show deer impacts to plant species in many different forest types. Coupled with the presenter’s recent publication on the subject ( , this information may help conservationists recognize and mitigate negative impacts of too many deer on the landscape.

Tom Rawinski ( is a U.S. Forest Service botanist based in Durham, NH. His work focuses on invasive plant and deer overabundance issues in the New England-New York region. Tom has a B.S. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.S. from Cornell University, where he studied purple loosestrife. He began his professional career in 1982 with The Nature Conservancy, classifying New England’s natural communities and conducting field studies throughout the Northeast. From 1990 to 1997 he was vegetation ecologist for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. In recent years Tom has worked for the Massachusetts Audubon Society as their director of ecological management. He has written scores of technical reports and publications, served on advisory committees, and worked to protect important natural areas throughout the Northeast. In 2001, Tom received the New England Wild Flower Society’s Conservation Award. In 2014, he received the Integrity in Conservation Award from the New England Society of American Foresters.