5 Questions for Dick Henry
We are thrilled to highlight the work of one of the amazing experts that our Catskills practicum participants get to meet. Dick Henry is a retired wildlife biologist who spent much of his career working as a deer and bear specialist for the NYS Department of Conservation. Today, he works with the Quality Deer Management Association and advocates for responsible deer hunting as a critical ecosystem management tool. Here are his thoughts about the ethics and practice of hunting, as well as his take on the changing field of wildlife biology.
How would you persuade people to support deer hunting in the Catskills?
White-tailed deer are an integral component of our landscape, and especially so in the Catskill Region. Keep in mind that the Catskill Forest Preserve was created in 1896 in response to the decimation of the forest during the tanning industry. Trees were wantonly cut down for their bark, which was a key component in the tanning process. Old pictures from that era show a decimated forest, and the today’s century old Forest Preserve lacks biodiversity. Old growth forests invariably have little, if any understory, and accordingly there is a lack of food for deer at the ground level. When deer in these areas use up their body fat reserves they suffer from chronic malnutrition, and ultimately an agonizing, lingering death. I have spent many winter days on snowshoes in the Catskills monitoring deer survival; Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress.
It is far better to balance deer numbers at a lower level in areas like the Catskills, commensurate with legal hunting, than to have deer suffer a cruel and agonizing death by starvation in hard winters. To do otherwise is poor animal husbandry.
How has the field of wildlife biology changed over the past few decades ?
Many changes to the science of wildlife management have occurred in the last few decades. Far and away the biggest change has been an evolution from the traditional management of individual species to a greater and broader emphasis on biodiversity at the landscape scale. By having a better understanding of the dynamics of wildlife species, we have a clearer understanding of the interactions within and limitations of the ecosystem.
Describe the moment you realized your passion ?
I distinctly remember sitting in a 7th grade science class in 1961 and watching a filmstrip about researchers in Wyoming capturing and tagging deer and grizzly bears. As a person whose family lived in the boondocks in NYS, I spent considerable time afield with nature and wildlife species. The realization came to me that this could actually be a one’s life profession. I followed that dream and after high school, I enrolled in the University of Wyoming. It was an excellent school, with a solid program in wildlife management. I’ve never looked back or had any regrets.
What advice do you have for people looking for meaningful work in the Wildlife profession ?
Find a college program that offers a well-rounded curriculum in wildlife management, and don’t shy away from “grunt jobs” or those often boring opportunities that will expand your repertoire of wildlife management skills. As a wildlife biologist, you need to be adept in the field and have a set of skills that does not limit you or narrowly define your expertise. You will spend time at desk or a laboratory, but you will also have many opportunities to learn things in a classroom that has no roof.
What’s one thing you think that everyone should know how to do ?
There are two sets of skills that field biologists should have, especially those whose duties include a departure from the beaten paths.
1. GPS and/or compass and map reading skills are paramount. Traveling off the beaten path becomes much simpler when you know your precise location, and even more importantly, where you want to go.
2. Always expect the unexpected when you are in the field. A well-stocked survival kit, sufficient and appropriate clothing, a basic knowledge of First Aid and the ability to communicate are key while you are afield in the great outdoors.
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