New antler restriction bill surfaces

 

Albany — One year after DEC officials opted not to expand antler restrictions in any additional wildlife management units in the state, legislation has emerged in the Senate that would impose mandatory antler restrictions across most of the state.

Critics of the proposal see it as an end run around DEC biologists, while supporters – led by the New York Whitetail Management Coalition – say it represents the sentiments of a majority of the state’s whitetail hunters.

Either way, the legislation sponsored by Southern Tier state Sen. Thomas O’Mara (R, C, I-Big Flats) rekindles what remains one of the most divisive issues among the state’s sporting community.

There is no companion bill in the state Assembly, and some have predicted one won’t surface in that governing body. But there was also concern among antler restriction opponents about its chances of advancement in the Senate: O’Mara serves as chairman of the Senate’s environmental conservation committee, where the bill – S4739 – now sits.

The bill comes a year after DEC officials, following an exhaustive effort utilizing a “structured decision-making” process, decided not to expand antler restrictions in any additional wildlife management units in the state.

Three-points-on-one-side regulations are currently in effect in 11 WMUs in southeastern New York –  3A, 3C, 3H, 3J, 3K, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S and 4W. In those units, support for those restrictions has been generally solid.

O’Mara’s bill would take antler restrictions a step further in several units, calling for four-points-on-a-side rules for WMUs 7R, 7S, 8N, 8P, 8R, 8T, 8W, 8X, 8Y, 9G, 9H, 9J, 9K, 9M, 9N, 9P, 9R, 9S, 9T, 9W, 9X, 9Y, 7A, 7F, 7J, 6P, 6S, 6R, and 4A.

The bill proposes three-points-on-one-side regulations for WMUs 3F, 3G, 3M, 3N, 3P, 3R, 4B, 4C, 4F, 4H, 4J, 4K, 4L, 4T, 4U, 4Y, 4Z, 5R, 5S, 5T, 7M, 7P, 6A, 6G, 6H, 6C and 6K.

Some units, notably on Long Island and parts of the Northern Zone and western New York, would not see antler restrictions under O’Mara’s bill.

In his memo attached to the bill, O’Mara noted that “New York has the highest yearling buck harvest rate in the nation, and as a result the second lowest 3.5-year-old harvest in the nation. This results in the majority of hunters being dissatisfied with their buck hunting experience.”

O’Mara pointed to a 2006 DEC study that found that “40.3-56 percent of hunters were dissatisfied with their buck hunting experience, and a decade later only 41 percent of hunters were moderately or very satisfied with opportunities to take an adult buck.”

DEC officials, however, said last year when opting not to expand antler restrictions that while 55 percent of hunters placed a high priority on shooting a big buck, 57 percent value the freedom to take the buck of their choosing – essentially not willing to make the trade-off for antler restrictions.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed during the structured decision-making process indicated they were satisfied with existing buck hunting regulations, DEC officials said.

The bill is opposed by the New York State Conservation Council, which called it “yet another selfish attempt to undermine the DEC and its ability to effectively manage white-tailed deer on behalf of the people of New York.”

Rich Davenport of Tonawanda, co-chair of the council’s big-game committee, said the DEC’s studies showed “no support of significance for mandatory antler restrictions, either via regulatory or legislative action.

“Our position has been education over regulation or legislation, and the DEC’s structured decision-making study confirmed this is the best course of action to take concerning alternative buck management,” Davenport said in a statement.

DEC officials last year were hopeful the decision to make no regulatory changes for buck management would put the antler restriction issue to rest for the next several years. O’Mara’s legislative proposal virtually assures that’s not going to happen.

The New York Whitetail Management Coalition, which is seen as the driving force behind the bill and undertook a petition drive pushing for mandatory antler restrictions, notes on its website that yearling buck protection via antler restrictions is growing in popularity and is in place in neighboring Pennsylvania and Vermont, as well as parts of New Jersey.

DEC’s deer harvest statistics show, too, that more hunters are voluntarily passing on smaller bucks; the yearling buck portion of the harvest has declined in recent years to its lowest level ever – under 50 percent.

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