Final aerial survey: Deer numbers vary

Staff Report

Harrisburg — Deer numbers vary widely across the state,
according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’
final analysis of an aerial white-tailed deer survey of state
forestlands done last winter.

DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis announced in late July that
the department’s Bureau of Forestry had completed the analysis, and
he contended it should prove a valuable tool in ensuring future
forest regeneration and healthy habitat for deer and other
wildlife.

“This data offers only a glimpse of what is happening in our 2.1
million acres of state forestland, but it is a necessary first
step, supplying us with scientific evidence on deer numbers in
carefully selected areas,” he said. “Now, we will intensify forest
regeneration monitoring in those areas, while trying to tailor
hunting pressure in accordance with deer numbers and available
habitat.”

Vision Air Research Inc., an Idaho-based independent wildlife
research firm, was contracted to target 10 sections of state forest
land totaling 207,527 acres in the aerial count. Flying when able,
Feb. 13 through April 11, researchers supplied Bureau of Forestry
officials with final films and data showing deer numbers in
sections of eight of the state’s 20 forest districts.

According to DCNR, surveyed deer densities ranged from a high of
23.69 deer-per-square-mile in the Promised Land area of Delaware
State Forest, Pike County, to a low of 8.63 deer per-square-mile in
the southern section of Sproul State Forest, Clinton and Centre
counties.

DCNR reported the second highest whitetail concentration was
20.29 deer per-square-mile in the Denton Hill area of Susquehannock
State Forest, in Potter County; followed by 18.21, McIntyre Wild
Area, Tiadaghton State Forest, Lycoming County; 14.89, Paddy
Mountain area, Bald Eagle State Forest, Union, Centre counties;
13.97, Algerine Wild Area, Tiadaghton State Forest, Lycoming
County; 12.20, Hicks Run area, Elk State Forest, Elk County; 11.20,
Trough Creek area, Rothrock State Forest, Huntingdon County; 10.91,
Arnot area, Tioga State Forest; Tioga County; and 9.64, Cedar Run
area, Tioga State Forest, Tioga County.

“These counts provide a minimum deer herd number at one point in
time — late winter,” said DiBerardinis. “This tells our district
foresters how many deer remained after the hunting seasons, and
gives us some information on what number of deer corresponds to the
level of browsing we’re seeing.”

According to DCNR, the results also will enable better
utilization of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Deer Management
Assistance Program that enables hunters to kill more than one deer
in designated areas when properly licensed.

“Our strategy on many of the areas where low deer densities were
found will be to continue with DMAP, but reduce the number of DMAP
permits,” DiBerardinis said. “Our goal is to manage the herd so we
can have time to allow forest regeneration. Then — with
regeneration established and more food for deer — to allow herd
numbers to rise, while keeping them in balance with the habitat’s
ability to sustain itself.”

Specializing in wildlife surveys using aerial infrared sensor
technology — commonly called forward looking infrared — Vision
Air Research has emerged as a leader in FLIR wildlife surveys,
filming and interpreting results on elk, bighorn sheep, moose and
sage grouse since 1996.

“The goals of this survey effort were realized,” said Merlin
Benner, DCNR wildlife biologist overseeing the project. “We’ll be
able to assess DMAP effectiveness at reducing deer densities and
browsing pressure in state forestlands. Also, we can verify hunter
reports of a reduced deer population, and have local deer
population numbers to compare to local browsing impacts on the
forest habitats.

“The agency is conducting forest regeneration surveys on these
areas and all our DMAP areas to determine whether or not these
reductions are sufficient to allow regeneration to occur from a
drop in browsing. Preliminary results in some of the areas indicate
a positive response.”

DCNR officials said they have been asked by the Game Commission
to add several state game lands to the flight contract and survey
those areas this fall, just prior to deer rifle season. Also, DCNR
officials said they plan to continue the use of FLIR technology on
state forestland, especially where the commission is conducting
research, and the bureau is evaluating browsing impact and habitat
recovery indicators in response to deer population levels.

The complete study, can be found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us (select
State Forests).

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