Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are the biggest free roaming herbivores in Germany. Thus, it is essential to manage such populations on a large scale. However, managing red deer is difficult due to the various types of forest ownerships, small scale hunting grounds, and inconsistent handling of game winter feeding sites. Additionally, unorganized tourist activities and poor communication, as well as different personal objectives and values of users are further obstacles to effective management. This leads to both (often preventable) damage caused by red deer and lack of acceptance of effective management plans by resource users.

Many conflicts and their negative consequences could be avoided or at least be reduced by managing red deer across hunting grounds and by including all groups of affected people in the process of developing and implementing management actions. Management must account for both wildlife and social science research to consider simultaneously the ecological demands of red deer and the needs of the local human population for recreational use of red deer habitat (Fig. 2).

Therefore, it is important that:

  1. damage caused by red deer stay within limits set by land owners,
  2. red deer habitat needs are being met and enough areas of refuge are available,
  3. red deer density accounts for conditions mentioned above (# 1 and # 2) but if the density is too high, the population should be reduced,
  4. hunting of red deer remains attractive with a high positive hunting value,
  5. red deer are visible in selected areas for the public to see,
  6. nature conservation and animal welfare goals are ensured, and
  7. long-term management structures are being established, so that resources for implementing management actions and the ongoing development of the management concept are available.

Based on these specifications, the Forest Research Institute of Baden-Württemberg (FVA), in cooperation with the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft Rotwild" (Red deer workgroup), has developed a management concept for the red deer territory "Southern Black Forest". The concept is based on extensive research conducted prior to the development process and includes, for example, a change in hunting methods and measures to increase habitat quality. Subsequently, the FVA has started a new project ("Erfolgskontrolle Rotwildkonzeption Südschwarzwald") to evaluate whether implementing the management concept has been effective. A new method that uses genetic analysis of fecal DNA obtained from an area of 8000 hectares was employed to estimate and verify red deer population size. Furthermore, the habitat survey of 2006 was repeated in 2016 to evaluate changes in habitat quality.

Initial results show a positive change in food availability and cover provided by vegetation. Therefore, the measures used to increase habitat quality have proven to be effective. In 2017, the project will focus on the social science part of the project, which includes all relevant stakeholders. Interviews and surveys will be used to determine the attitudes and desires that different stakeholders have about the management concept. This information will enable us to anonymously identify potential improvements to the concept. The management concept will be revised by the end of 2017 using the resources of Arbeitsgemeinschaft Rotwild.

Aside from evaluating the management concept for the southern Black Forest, the FVA is currently developing a concept for the red deer territory “Northern Black Forest”. The red deer territory “Northern Black Forest” (105.000 hectares) is the largest of five red deer territories in Baden-Württemberg (Fig. 3) and plays a key role in migration and genetic exchange within red deer populations. More than 85% of the area is covered by forest, most of it being in state forest or municipal forest. The red deer territory is embedded in the Naturpark Schwarzwald Mitte-Nord and covers 7 counties and two administrative districts. To complicate things even more, the red deer territory contains over 250 hunting grounds and the Black Forest National Park.

During the next few years, wildlife and social science research will be undertaken to develop a management concept extending to 2020. Using radio-telemetry, up to 30 red deer will be observed over two or more years to identify spatio-temporal habitat use and migration. Genetic monitoring, the analysis of the yearly hunting bag, and trail cams will be used to quantify the size and development of the red deer population size. Vegetation surveys and the analysis of inventory and remote sensing data will be used to determine seasonal habitat quality. A newly developed bark stripping monitoring method will be used to monitor damage caused by red deer. Furthermore, interviews and surveys will be used to determine attitudes and desires of various stakeholders on the management concept. The research methods we are employing should reveal how attitudes and desires change during the development process. In collaboration with the FVA and based on the information obtained from the various research project groups, local stakeholders will form working groups who then will develop the actual management concept.