Panel gives PGC advice about deer

By Bob Frye Capital Correspondent

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania Game Commission officials have asked
deer hunters to adapt to a lot of changes over the last few
years.

Now, some deer hunters – and some landowners, municipal
officials, bird watchers, and others – want the Game Commission to
adapt to them.

The groups behind the Ecosystem Management Project’s urban deer
seminars, held around the state this fall, are preparing to send a
list of suggestions to Cal DuBrock, director of the Game
Commission’s bureau of wildlife management.

The suggestions, if adopted, could make it easier for hunters to
control deer in urban and suburban areas where hunting can work and
let municipalities and landowners control deer where hunting can’t
work, said Bryon Shissler, a biologist with Natural Resource
Consultants Inc.

“These are things the public, the people who attended the
workshops, thought would be useful for moving the deer management
agenda forward,” Shissler said.

Some of the recommendations are familiar, like those focusing on
increasing opportunities to hunt deer on Deer Management Assistance
Program lands. Others are more radical. One for example, suggests
that in those communities where hunting can’t work to control deer,
municipalities be allowed to sell the venison they collect when
sharpshooters kill deer for them. That would help offset the
community’s costs.

“The reason it’s illegal to sell wildlife is because we don’t
want to see that wildlife overexploited for profit,” Shissler said.
“That’s not the case here.

“We’re just looking for a way to underwrite the cost of removing
deer that the Game Commission, by issuing a deer removal permit,
will have already said needs to go.”

The groups are also suggesting that communities that can’t
control deer any other way be allowed to trap and euthanize them,
again if they have a Game Commission permit. Such a tool might be
used where firearms are determined to be inappropriate or as a
maintenance program carried on following an initial deer reduction,
the recommendation says.

The suggestions also ask the commission to give much more
control of deer management decisions to local landowners. For
example, one recommendation asks that the commission allow
landowners, community associations, and conservancies to apply
directly to the agency for deer control permits.

Right now, only government entities like official municipalities
are eligible for those kinds of permits.

Landowners that get a permit should have more freedom to
determine which tools they will use to lower deer densities, too,
according to the groups. They should also be able to begin culling
deer as soon as Nov. 1, rather than at the start of specific deer
seasons, since the deer being targeted aren’t available to hunters
anyway.

None of those suggestions should be taken to mean that the
Ecosystem Management Project or the groups behind the urban deer
seminars are anti-hunting, Shissler said. It’s just that those
hunters are going to need new tools, and they’re going to have to
adapt to hunting under new circumstances.

“The reality is that hunters have a role to play in managing
deer in urban and suburban settings. But it is a very different
role than traditional hunting in rural landscapes,” Shissler said.
“Hunters are going to have to be much more considerate of landowner
discomforts with hunters moving on and off their property. It can
be a win-win if done right, but it’s going to be different than a
lot of people are used to.”

That’s why the groups are recommending that the commission
develop some kind of “hunter certification” program. Hunters who go
through the program could have their names put on a list that
communities unfamiliar with hunters and hunting could reference.
They could solicit hunters from there, confident that those
sportsmen have been trained in everything from hunter safety and
marksmanship to hunter etiquette and landowner relations, Shissler
said.

The Game Commission can also help hunters, Shissler said, by
changing some regulations. The groups behind the deer seminars, for
example, are asking that the commission get rid of “arbitrary
restrictions” — such as the regulation requiring hunters to tag one
deer before they shoot another — that reduce hunter effectiveness.
They also want to see baiting legalized in those areas where it
might be used to draw deer out of unhuntable places.

When it comes to DMAP lands, the groups want hunters to be
allowed to kill deer on those lands outside of the regular deer
seasons. There should be a two-week, any tackle, antlerless deer
season for DMAP properties, and hunters should be allowed to use
rifles on DMAP lands during all deer seasons.

Hunters should be able to exchange DMAP tags between themselves,
too. That would let hunters with the time and skill to kill deer
actually do so.

Finally, at least in regards to DMAP, the commission should give
permits directly to landowners, who should be able to hand them out
to hunters at no charge. As things stand now, Pennsylvania is the
only state in the country that charges hunters for DMAP
permits.

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