By STEVEN NALLEY
Conservation means more than just conserving.
Steve Demarais, professor of wildlife ecology and management in MSU’s Forestry and Wildlife Research Center, said the term “conservation” was coined in the early 1900s in reference to the wise use of natural resources, not just conserving those resources. Demarais specializes in deer conservation, and he said his advocacy today was the furthest thing from discouraging deer hunting in order to conserve deer population.
“That’s not the problem at all. It’s the other way around,” Demarais said. “The largest issue in deer conservation in Mississippi deals with ensuring that we have the proper or adequate numbers of hunters removing adequate numbers of deer to minimize human conflicts with deer. By conflicts, I mean deer coming in and eating people’s landscaping and gardens, or people hitting deer with their cars and trucks.”
The Mississippi Wildlife Federation named Steve Demarais Wildlife Conservationist of the Year Feb. 16. for his 30 years of wildlife study and his 15 years deer herd management technique research.
Jimmy Bullock, MSU alumnus and manager of forest resource sustainability for the private investment and land management company Resource Management Service, said Demarais’ research had played a significant role in shaping the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ deer hunting policies. For instance, he said Demarais’ research led MDWFP to shift hunting to older bucks of higher class.
“I think the hunters in Mississippi as a whole are harvesting some of the best bucks since modern deer management began. Steve’s research has led us to that,” Bullock said. “I refer to Steve as a professional’s professional. He is highly respected around the country for his professional and personal integrity and research ethics. He’s highly deserving of being named Wildife Conservationist of the Year. He is long overdue for that opportunity.”
Bullock said he also agreed with Demarais on the issue of keeping the deer population in check.
“There’s a fine balance between too many deer and a quality resource,” Bullock said. “Hunter recruitment is certainly an important issue. I do agree with that.”
Demarais said Mississippi’s hunting population was aging and harvesting fewer deer.
“When you’re 60 years old, you might shoot one deer but you’re not going to shoot three, four or five like you were when you were 25,” Demarais said. “We’re not getting as much hunter recruitment as we need in the long term to ensure adequate deer harvest.”
Before joining MSU’s faculty, Demarais said he spent 15 years in big game management in Texas. He said he was originally from Massachussets, but the strength of MSU’s wildlife program brought him there for his master’s and doctoral degrees, and it brought him back from Texas to teach and research.
Bruce Leopold, head of MSU’s Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Aquaculture, said MSU was lucky that Demarais came to Mississippi. He said Demarais’ outside perspective on Mississippi’s ecosystem was invaluable.
“The more diverse the background relative to the location of training, the more perspectives the professional has to draw upon when faced with Mississippi’s issues,” Leopold said. “He has produced a wealth of science-based research on key deer management issues that are often proactive in nature that our state wildlife biologists can use to implement sound and sustained management. Also, given this excellent research and an outstanding national reputation, he has provided our legislature with good information to base laws on.”