Agency’s article about deer insulted some state hunters
Franklin, Pa. — An often-repeated complaint about the Pennsylvania Game Commission is that it no longer cares about or respects deer hunters, and some are pointing to an article written by one of the agency’s deer biologists in a recent issue of its public relations magazine as proof.
At their recent quarterly meeting here, commissioners heard a complaint about the story, authored by Jeannine Fleegle in the August issue of Pennsylvania Game News.
Randy Santucci, president of the Unified Sportsmen, claimed the piece was “disrespectful” and “essentially spit in the face of sportsmen.”
The article titled “Enough,” according to Santucci, was condescending towards Keystone State hunters unhappy about low deer numbers, comparing them to spoiled children throwing a temper tantrum.
“I have been contacted by sportsmen who are highly offended and insulted being compared to children,” he said.
In the article, Fleegle claimed that Pennsylvania deer hunters are “stuck in the ‘70s and suggested they should consider the title of the Rolling Stones song “You Can't Always Get What You Want!”
Santucci, of McKees Rocks, pointed out that hunters pay Fleegle’s salary, and demanded an apology from the commissioners for her insulting hunters.
“As a small business owner, if any of my employees addressed my customers in this degrading, disrespectful manner, there would be serious ramifications!” he said.
“This agency is supposedly professing a new commitment to transparency and connecting with the public. But one must ask, are hunters part of the public they want to embrace with this outreach?”
Publicly – although Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, president of the board, did say that Fleegle does not speak for the agency – commissioners declined to disavow her opinions.
Privately, after the session, however, they made it clear they did not appreciate the “tone of the article.” One said it is “a personnel issue that is being investigated.” Another vowed, ”it won’t happen again.”
Fleegle is entitled to her opinions, Martone indicated, but commissioners don’t necessarily agree with her. He called her article an opinion piece.
“So, I think the deer team does its job biologically and the board of commissioners takes the social issues into account,” he said. “And believe me, it is always part of the discussion, keeping the hunters in the game.”
Martone pointed out that commissioners don’t always follow recommendations by agency biologists like Fleegle and her boss, commission deer section leader Chris Rosenberry.
“We listen to his recommendation the same as we listen to yours,” he told Santucci, who is also now a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation. “That doesn’t mean that we always take his advice – to his consternation.”
Santucci – who has been contending for years deer numbers are unnecessarily depleted in the northern tier – complained that there was no way to debate or rebut Fleegle’s opinions because Game News does not include letters to the editor.
“But we do offer a lot of contact with the board members,” Martone said. “Emailed comments to the website are forwarded to us and all letters sent on paper to the Harrisburg headquarters are forwarded to us.
“We follow Facebook and Twitter, so we see all the comments both positive and negative. So it is much easier in the last few years to get directly to your commissioner and the whole board.”
Fleegle’s “Enough” article was part of a series called “History of the Whitetail” that has been running in Game News.
“I think that series of articles was a little bit risky, to say the least, but I do think Jeannine is a good biologist and I would stick by her biology in this case,” Martone said.
“But her commentary maybe explains how sometimes the deer team feels like they are under the microscope and under fire a lot.
“It was a pretty controversial article, and that’s basically beyond anything else I could say. I am uncomfortable giving my personal opinion on it.”