My brother spotted a deer in Mocho Creek last week. It was a doe. Having lived along Livermore’s Mocho Creek for much of our lives, we know that spotting a deer in the creek is unusual. So unusual that the last deer we saw in Mocho Creek was over 40 years ago.
Our previous deer sighting occured on a warm day, probably in the fall of the year when Rob and I were hiking in territory outside our normal haunts. In what seemed like a remote area southeast of town, we found a dump where the landowners were leaving yard trimmings, old furniture and miscellaneous stuff.
As we approached the dump, a young buck blacktail jumped from cover along the trail. My best guess is that I was about 11 at the time, so that makes it 47 years ago and even then deer were scarce that close to town. The site of that deer observation was where the Livermore Rodeo grounds have since been built.
Unfortunately deer habitat in our area is in serious decline. Housing projects, vineyards, and small-lot rural development have fragmented habitat. Habitat that may have been good for deer fifty years ago has been rendered less healthy by an inability to manage habitat with prescribed fire.
With an inability to manage the mountain lion population, hungry predator populations are trimming the remaining numbers of deer to the point where lions are forced out of their habitat and into the edge of town where they may find alternative food sources.
For hunters, matters are even worse as more and more land that is deer habitat comes under ownership of public agencies that don’t allow hunting. The East Bay Regional Park District is one, and the City of San Francisco via its watershed lands is another.
And, the future is not bright for hunting opportunities in the East Bay. As time passes more and more land will secede to land-owning agencies that do not allow hunting. Why? Pressure from the anti-hunting groups is only part of the problem. The bad public image of hunting is also a factor. Safety and liability issues contribute as well.
However, hunting makes tremendous sense as a viable and compatible use with much of the land owned by these agencies. Hunting produces revenue. Hunting leaves a minor footprint on the land. Hunting is strictly limited to open seasons, which occur during brief time frames. Hunters are licensed and trained in firearm safety. Restrictions on method of take can be used to create safe conditions. Game animal populations need to be managed – currently problems exhist with wild pigs and Canada geese.
Thousands of acres of public lands are sitting out there wasting away. Yes there are a few cattle out there and some of our local ranchers are making ends meet while keeping up their rodeo skills, but why not get some tangible additional benefits from the land?
Now, as mitigation for loss of wetlands and impacts to endangered species escalates, more land will be placed into conservation easements or turned over to agencies. If the current trend continues, these new conservations lands will be removed from private ownership and placed under management of people who do not wish to see hunting continue. It’s time for a change to this trend.
Hunters need to look for new avenues to insure that lands will continue to be hunted. Those that own land can help create solutions by looking for future owners who will continue to see that land is hunted. If park distircts continue to refuse to allow hunting, the State of California can be called upon to purchase lands through the Wildlife Conservation Board or new land owning non-government organizations can be established to replace the East Bay Regional Park District as a recipient of conservation properties outside the urban limits.
It’s time for hunters to create a roadmap.