Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

PGC seems headed to deer compromise

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

Harrisburg — It looks like the Pennsylvania Game Commis-sion is
heading toward a compromise on deer-management.

The agency’s deer-management biologists have been directed to
present commissioners with a range of options for seasons and
antlerless allocations at the board’s April 17-18 meeting.

“We have said to our deer team, start looking at the wildlife
management units and tell us if we need to make adjustments,” said
Commis-sioner Russ Schleiden, of Centre County, one of the board’s
strongest advocates for not making changes in the deer-management
program until the current phase of the plan has run its course.

“As far as I am concerned, management is an adjustable thing.
Down the road, seasons and allocations may well change.

“The deer team has inquired about a clear direction for what the
board would like to see brought to the April meeting for
deer-management options,” Schleiden added. “We told our biologists
we want to see more than one choice.”

Commission President Tom Boop, of Sunbury, and Commissioner Dan
Hill, of Erie, said last month they wanted to see an end to
statewide, one-size-fits-all deer management, and be presented with
tailored deer-management plans for each of the state’s 22 wildlife
management units.

And legislators told commission Executive Director Carl Roe last
month after he presented the agency’s annual report to the House
Game and Fisheries Committee, that the agency would not get a badly
needed hunting license fee increase until it made changes in deer
management.

So it seems clear that changes are in the works.

“I don’t know anything about making a deal on deer management
for a license increase, but I do know the executive director has
told the wildlife-management team to come up with various plans to
allow the commissioners to make decisions,” said Commissioner Greg
Isabella, of Philadelphia.

Isabella, who has been an advocate for continuing the current
program to its end, hasn’t changed his mind. “You can never say
never, and I have an open mind, but from the forest regeneration
evidence I am seeing and hearing about from our wildlife
conservation officers, I think we are headed in the right
direction.

“When the FLIR (forward looking infrared reconnaissance –
deer-counting aerial survey being conducted this month over vast
Pennsylvania tracts) is complete, we’ll know for sure,” Isabella
added.

“I believe when they finish the FLIR, from last year to this
year, we will see more deer. I am a statistics guy – I believe we
need to let the program run its course. Where are we now with our
deer population? That is what we need to learn.

“That FLIR report is the final piece of evidence I need to see,”
Isabella said. “I am willing to bet it will show that the deer herd
has not been decimated.”

Another piece of information commissioners are anxiously
awaiting are deer harvest totals from last year’s hunting seasons,
which are expected soon. The harvest report may convince board
members to consider other options and the staff to make new
recommendations, Schleiden suggested.

“I know where my fellow commissioners stand and respectfully, we
will try to resolve our differences of opinion” he said. “To me it
is just that simple – it isn’t about me winning or losing – we are
just trying to come up with the best deer-management plan.”

Although the board seems deadlocked on deer policy, Schleiden
insisted that he, Isabella, commissioners John Reilly, of Monroe
County, and Roxanne Palone, of Greene County, are not really that
far from agreement with Boop, Hill, Commission David Schreffler, of
Bedford County, and Commissioner Steve Mohr, of Lancaster County,
on the deer program. “They are in a hurry, that is the only
difference between my position and theirs,” he said. “We made a
commitment of three to five years, and I don’t see how we can cut
that program short.

“The important thing is habitat,” Schleiden explained. “We are
getting reports that some regeneration is happening.”

Schleiden pointed out that the agency in the last few years has
completed a fawn-mortality study, a buck-movement study, a
doe-survival study and now two years of FLIR. “My philosophy is let
our people get their information together and then we can see where
we are going. I think we need to allow our biologists a couple more
years to complete this program.

“We are not going to exterminate the deer. I am tired of hearing
that.”

Commissioners voted 5-3 in their October meeting to keep
statewide concurrent buck and doe seasons and only make adjustments
with antlerless license allocations. A vote on the measure was
tabled at the January meeting.

“As far as I am concerned the proposal is concurrent seasons and
adjust by allocations – that’s the way the proposal is right now,”
Schleiden said. “Now at the April meeting that has to be approved,
and there is significant disagreement on the board.”

Commissioner Mohr, whose term expired last December, can serve
until he is replaced or until June. A long-time opponent of the
agency’s deer herd-reduction policy, there is no doubt that he will
vote for change. “You know, after all those years of 6-1 votes, it
is nice to have someone on my side once in a while,” he said.

“I wish I was just starting my eight-year term now. What has
changed is that we got new commissioners who are open minded and
are not wearing blinders.”

Melody Zullinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania
Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, is confident commissioners can
reach a compromise.

“I just hope they look at the whole picture, and make decisions
about deer management based on science and sound management, and
what is best for the future of our wildlife resources – and not
make decisions based on politics and emotions,” she said.

“We definitely can’t go back to knee-jerk reactions and just
wanting to see more deer,” Zullinger added, “unless the habitat
will support it.”

Commissioner Isabella be-lieves the current program is working.
“All I know is that we are getting better bucks and we are seeing
some regeneration,” he said. “On my farm in Schuylkill County, we
have a lot of deer. But come hunting season, I didn’t see any. They
had become nocturnal.

“I am willing to look at anything, but I believe the deer are
out there.”

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