Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Game land infrared deer survey on tap soon

By Mark Nale Northcentral Correspondent

Harrisburg — Five state game lands are scheduled to receive
deer-counting, infrared aerial surveys this winter, according to
Cal DuBrock, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission‘s bureau
of wildlife management.

The game lands will be flown in conjunction with the Department
of Conservation and Natural Resources contract for the aerial
surveys of state forest lands.

Forward-looking infrared surveys, or FLIR, use special thermal
digital video imaging that records heat or infrared light instead
of light from the normal visible spectrum of rainbow colors. This
technique was developed by the United States military. Some camera
units can detect a difference in heat of less than 1 degree.

An aircraft flies at night in a straight line over a section of
forest at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet. The plane
travels slowly and the FLIR camera records everything in a swath
measuring a little over 800 feet wide.

According to Susan Bernatas, whose company completed last
winter’s DCNR lands aerial study, each animal leaves a heat
signature that is identifiable from other animals, as well as from
the nonheated background. Therefore, a deer can be differentiated
from an elk, a coyote or a large dog.

The state game lands chosen for FLIR counts were picked in
series of discussions between the Game Commission’s deer management
leaders, land managers and Duane Diefenbach, professor of wildlife
at at Penn State,” said DuBrock. “The goal was to select game lands
of differing sizes, topography, proximity to populated areas and

According to the Game Commission, the following game lands are
tentatively scheduled to be surveyed: State Game Land 14 in Cameron
and Elk counties, and State Game Land 75 in Lycoming County, in the
northcentral region; State Game Land 13 in Sullivan and Columbia
counties in the northeast; and State Game Land 210 in Dauphin
County, and State Game Land 211 in Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill
counties, in the southeast.

“These game lands total about 146,000 acres and the surveys will
cover 50 percent of each parcel,” DuBrock said. “In addition, we
requested that 50,000 acres be surveyed in each of two wildlife
management units – WMU 4B and WMU 4D.”

WMU 4B, in the commission’s southcentral region, is one of the
two units involved in the agency’s current doe study. Wildlife
Management Unit 4D, right in the center of the state, includes the
southern two thirds of Centre County, northern Blair and Huntingdon
counties, much of Union County and parts of seven other counties.
The Game Commission submitted its request to DCNR in late

“These game lands aerial surveys came about through the efforts
of Commissioner Greg Isabella,” explained commission press
secretary Jerry Feaser.

“The commissioners were discussing the deer population, and it
was mentioned that it would be nice if the commission could do FLIR
surveys of game lands similar to what DCNR did last winter,” said
Commissioner Isabella. “Of course, we didn’t have the money for

“A short time later, I happened to be talking with my senator,
Vincent Fumo, and I mentioned the FLIR surveys. Fumo, a long-time
supporter of hunting and the Game Commission, replied that he
thought that he could get some money for FLIR surveys of game

Fumo, who is the minority chair of the Senate Appropria-tions
Committee and also sits on the Game and Fisheries Committee,
arranged to have an extra $100,000 added to the DCNR budget,
specifically earmarked for aerial infrared surveys of game

“I wanted them to survey some of the areas that are believed to
be hard hit, not the areas in the extreme southeast, where I live,”
Isabella pointed out.

According to Isabella, the money could not be given to the Game
Commission directly, but had to be piggy-backed with the DCNR’s
existing FLIR contract. FLIR surveys cost about 50 cents an acre,
so it is hoped that the money secured by Sen. Fumo will pay for
surveying 175,000 to 200,000 acres.

DCNR wildlife biologist Merlin Benner confirmed that DCNR
received the extra $100,000 for FLIR surveys, as well as the Game
Commis-sion’s request for areas to be surveyed.

“In addition to state game lands 13, 14, 75, 210 and 211, we
plan to survey all of State Game Land 311, which is northeast of
Benezette, as well as the contiguous state forest and private land
in that area,” Benner said. “This will be part of a combined elk
and deer survey.” Sections of other state forests also will be

“Gov. Ed Rendell requested that we survey the Kinzua Quality
Deer Cooperative lands in northwestern Pennsylvania,” Benner added.
The Kinzua Cooperative lands are 73,250 acres of open-to-public
hunting municipal, private, and Allegheny National Forest land in
western McKean County.

Benner noted that “up to 50,000 acres of the Kinzua Quality Deer
Cooperative lands would receive a FLIR survey.”

Benner, who coordinates the FLIR surveys for DCNR, hopes to
survey about 236,000 acres of state forest land, state game lands,
private, Army Corps of Engineers and Allegheny National Forest land
this winter.

“The state game lands that we requested, as well as the total
acres surveyed for the Game Commission, could change depending on
the weather at the time the FLIR is being conducted, input from the
contractor about distance between areas or the topography, and the
actual cost of the final contract,” DuBrock noted. “We also hope to
have additional FLIR conducted in the northwest and southwest if
future funding becomes available.”

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