March 19, 2018

Claim: Forest Fragmentation Causes More Ticks – My Answer: Bull!

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Hat tip to Reader “Bonedog” for providing the links and the forest growth chart provided.

People with personal agendas assume the majority of people are ignorant and swallow their foolish nonsense without uttering a word or even questioning ridiculous reasoning and flawed logic.

Found in the Sacramento Bee, via PR Newswire, an article claims that the increase in ticks and tick-borne disease is on the rise in the United States due to forest fragmentation. The article describes fragmentation as: “large woodlands are split into smaller, more isolated sections for such uses as building roads, shopping centers or housing developments.”

Blaming forest fragmentation for increased ticks and disease might be an easier pill to swallow if the reasoning used to convince people that building anything is bad, made any real sense. Let’s first consider that this article, while it doesn’t come right out and say it precisely, implies that because of this so-called forest fragmentation and increased roads, chopped up forests, shopping centers and housing developments, there aren’t enough forests left for ticks to live in, therefore they are forced to live in our backyards.

Not that one chart of information is the answer to all tick problems, before a person makes such claims, perhaps they should consider the chart below. (Also found here.)

As compared to 1880, all 16 counties in the state of Maine have more forested areas in 1995. Many of those counties have remarkable increases. Consider Cumberland County, where Maine’s largest city, Portland, can be found. In 1880, 50% of the county was forested. Today that number is over 70%. Statewide, Maine was 62% forested in 1880 and in 1995 that number has grown to just shy of 90%. While this only speaks for Maine, which is heavily infested with ticks this season, one has to question a person’s conclusions about forest fragmentation and tick and tick-related disease growth.

But this isn’t all. The article states that with more people building and moving into the suburbs: “human and pet interaction with ticks and tick hosts naturally escalated.” No argument here. Here’s a quote from Michael W. Dryden, DVM, MS, PhD, a distinguished professor of parasitology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University:

There are clearly more ticks in more places than ever before, and a big part of that equation is forest fragmentation.

The fine doctor’s claim is that there are more ticks because there’s less forests, and forests are where ticks need to live and therefore with less forests, due to fragmentation, there are more ticks. Am I getting this right?

The article further states that: “The conditions created by forest fragmentation are conducive to the proliferation of ticks.” According to the article, ticks are forced to feed more on the blood of their hosts, i.e. deer and white-footed mice, “since many other species that ticks feed off of cannot survive in fragmented environments. So, both the disease-carrying animals and infectious ticks are left to multiply.”

This might help explain a claim that there are more disease-infected ticks but it certainly runs counter to the claim that there are more ticks because there’s less forest or that it’s broken up. Isn’t it contradictory to claim that fewer species can survive in fragmented forests while at the same time claiming that ticks and deer and mice are growing prolifically in fragmented forests?

Clearly forest fragmentation is not a “big part of the equation” in the growing number of ticks in this country. I would concur that perhaps the increase in diseased ticks comes from a claim that other species that ticks feed on don’t do well in fragmented forests. I don’t have any data to support or refute that claim.

That still leaves us with some answered questions, however. Why are there more deer living in people’s backyards in these so-called fragmented forests? There are a few factors to consider. People build beautiful homes and create a great walk-up restaurant of fine shrubbery and grasses for deer to feed on. Deer also are moving out of the forests to escape overblown populations of predators, i.e. wolves, coyotes, bears, lions, bobcat, etc. Deer aren’t stupid. They will go where the food is fine and the risk of being eaten alive by large predators is greatly reduced. That’s a fact.

With clearly more forests available today than 100 years ago, and the efforts by environmentalists and animal rights groups to protect predators, deer are drawn and forced into closer proximity with people. Naturally deer are a host of the ticks. They engorge themselves on the blood of deer and drop off and sometimes landing on people and biting them.

To claim that forest fragmentation causes more ticks is bogus and smells terribly of agenda-driven rhetoric. I call bull! If the concern is over people and pets, let’s get it right. Help people understand how to make their backyards non attractive to deer or other tick host species. In addition, educate people to the truths about how predators effect deer and other prey species and allow for the sensible control of those predators to create healthier forests and wildlife. Certainly disease-carrying ticks being transported around by deer does not for a healthy forest make.

Tom Remington