Urban deer control may call for baiting

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

Harrisburg — As Pennsylvania Game Commission officials grapple
with how to control deer numbers in urban areas with hunting, they
are considering heretofore-unheard-of measures for
Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the most significant tool under consideration for
allowing hunters to kill enough whitetails to solve suburban
deer-nuisance problems is baiting – the mention of which was
considered blasphemous by the sporting public here until
recently.

“Every state has its own hunting culture, so to speak, and
baiting certainly is not part of Pennsylvania’s,” said Cal DuBrock,
chief of the Game Commission’s bureau of wildlife management.
“Still, to control growing deer numbers in the very urban areas
around Pennsylvania’s cities, it looks like we will have to permit
more drastic measures.”

And baiting is just one of the “tools” under consideration,
according to Game Commissioner Greg Isabella, of Philadelphia, who
has been working with sportsmen’s and agricultural groups to come
up with a plan.

“I am getting involved more heavily with the urban
deer-management program, and we are discussing baiting in some of
the areas of Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties, where there is
a tremendous amount of safe havens for deer. Wealthy homeowners may
or may not be feeding deer, but most landowners won’t allow
hunting.

“There are so many issues surrounding urban deer management,”
Isabella added. “We are looking at a lot of things, such as
unlimited tags, longer shooting hours, a longer deer-hunting season
– perhaps five months – expanded DMAP with multiple tags, expanding
the Red Tag program, perhaps having an agricultural group such as
the landscapers’ association act as a liaison between farmers and
hunters – and most important, Sunday hunting.”

Isabella believes some recent regulations changes have set the
stage for better urban deer management, such as the reduction last
year in the safety zone distance for archers and the acceptance of
crossbows as a legitimate hunting weapon in the state. “I think it
is clear that bowhunters and crossbow users have to be the answer
to our urban deer management problems,” he said.

DuBrock was quick to point out that indiscriminate baiting would
not be permitted, and perhaps none at all would be allowed if
chronic wasting disease showed up in Pennsyl-vania.

“These are pretty difficult issues and that is why we are not
taking this lightly and are approaching this cautiously and
systematically,” he said. “We surely won’t allow baiting without
constraints, such as only allowing certain materials and only set
amounts of material to be used as bait, and then requiring that it
must be removed by a certain time.”

DuBrock is aware of horror stories from states such as Michigan
and Wisconsin, that allow regulated baiting only in certain areas,
about deer switching only to nocturnal feeding and sportsmen
legally dumping huge truckloads of corn to attract whitetails to
their properties.

“In our state, I think baiting has ruined the deer hunting,”
said Dean Bortz, editor of the Wisconsin edition of Outdoor News,
which has 56,000 paid subscribers. “Of course, allowing baiting in
limited urban areas is a whole different thing, and bait may
attract deer off private property where hunting is not
permitted.”

Bill Parker, editor of the Michigan edition of Outdoor News,
echoed Bortz, but advised Pennsylvania officials to be careful with
baiting rules. “I really think baiting has resulted in Michigan
hunters becoming less-skilled woodsmen,” he said. “You don’t have
to be as good of a hunter if you can just go out and sit over a
bait pile. It may work in urban areas, but baiting just seems to
make deer feed only at night and be unavailable to hunters.”

The scientific literature has cases of both “successful” and
“unsuccessful” baiting, according to DuBrock. “We are well aware of
the perception about how baiting has affected hunting in other
states, but we also have heard from hunters and managers who think
it has enhanced hunting,” he said. “We are trying to benefit from
the experiences in other states and proceed cautiously. It is not a
forgone conclusion that we will have baiting in urban areas.
Certainly a majority of commissioners would have to agree on
baiting.”

Isabella is one commissioner who thinks it is needed in urban
areas. “But everybody is a little bit gun shy about baiting now
because of CWD,” he said. “Whether we end up allowing baiting or
not, archers are going to be a big part of the equation in our
urban counties.

“If we are going to be successful and we can manage the urban
deer, then landowners have to allow hunters onto their properties,”
Isabella added. “And I really believe it has to be archery
hunters.”

So far, Isabella and the Game Commission urban deer management
team has only concentrated on dealing with problems in the suburban
southeast corner of the state, but DuBrock said there is a good
chance that urban deer management regulations may be applied in
other places.

“Folks will no doubt argue that the Pittsburgh suburbs need
urban deer management just as bad,” DuBrock said. “And one could
argue for the edges of Erie, Wilkes-Barre, Altoona, Harrisburg,
State College or Lancaster. There are deer problems in a lot of
suburbs across the state. That is yet to be decided by the
commissioners and the commission’s executive director.”

Barring discovery of CWD in Pennsylvania, a draft of the urban
deer-management plan should be ready for review by the
commissioners by the summer of 2006, according to DuBrock, and
Isabella is hoping to have pilot hunting programs utilizing tools
such as baiting and liberalized hunting regulations running by late
next year.

“We are determined to keep hunters involved in solving the urban
deer problems in our state,” he said.

“We are on the right track and we have a lot of momentum. If
landowners will allow bowhunters on their properties, we could have
the urban deer problem under control here in southeastern
Pennsylvania in two or three years,” he said.

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