Doe hunting plan doubted by PGC

Harrisburg – At their meeting April 21-22, Pennsylvania game
commissioners will either vote to implement or throw out
controversial deer-season changes in four management units that
they introduced at the January meeting.

The outcome is far from certain. And with biologists both inside
and outside the agency questioning the science behind the move to
cut back on doe hunting by a week in wildlife management units 2D,
2G, 3C and 4B, commissioners are second-guessing their action.

The commissioners voted 4-3 at their January meeting to shorten
the concurrent antlerless deer season in those units, where
firearms deer season would start with  a five-day,
antlered-deer-only season.

Commissioners also approved an accompanying “study” of the
impacts of the changes.

Wildlife biologist Bryon Shissler, of Natural Resources
Consultants, Fort Hill, Pa, Somerset County, charged that the
proposal to shorten the antlerless season was politically motivated
rather than an effort to gain meaningful deer-research data. He
suggested that altering the season in the middle of the three-year
antlerless deer study in progress will weaken the results.

“This idea appears to be the first payment by the commission in
its negotiations for a hunting license fee increase with several
key legislators who are yearning to restore the tradition of a buck
season and reduce opportunities for antlerless harvest,” Shissler
said.

Even Game Commission biologists are not on board with the plan.
On the day when he was supposed to give a presentation to the board
and propose cutting back on doe hunting in the four units, Chris
Rosenberry, chief of the commission’s deer-management section,
called in sick.  

Last-minute replacement biologist Bret Wallingford was brought
in from State College to address the commissioners, and he was less
than enthusiastic about the plan.

“I thought that it was very telling that Bret Wallingford,
specifically mentioned that the request came from ‘senior
management,’” Commissioner Dan Hill, of Erie, said. “That struck me
as extremely direct and a strong indication that he didn’t take
ownership of the change.”

In an e-mail sent to his boss, Cal DuBrock, director of the
commission’s bureau of wildlife management (see story on this
page), Rosenberry explained why the proposed changes would
seriously damage deer-management efforts under way by the
agency.

Commissioners admitted later that none of them even saw
Rosenberry’s e-mail before they voted on the proposed changes.

When first asked where the idea for the shortened doe season
originated, Commissioner Russ Schleiden, of Centre County – who
provided the swing vote for approval of the proposed change to
shorten the antlerless season in four units – said, “from the deer
team.” But later he conceded that, “It came from senior management,
but the deer team had input into the idea.”

But that’s not true, Shissler insisted. “I don’t know who
originated the idea, but it certainly didn’t come from the
biologists,” he said. “I do not believe the split buck/concurrent
season proposal originated from the commission’s professional deer
biologists.

“The proposal undermines the Game Commission’s current research
efforts, ignores the results of their own data to date, and is
unrealistic in the timeframe presented for producing meaningful
results,” Shissler added.

Hill recently revealed that he did not like the sound of the
shortened-season proposal and the questionable “study” when he
first heard it. “I wonder about the reasonable expectations of this
study and I’d like to know what it really is about,” he said. “I
don’t see how this proposal fits into what we are already doing. If
Chris (Rosenberry) is concerned, then so am I.”

“There have been tons of Web-based discussion as well as
hearings,” Hill added. “I’ve heard nothing to suggest that my vote
in January was wrong. If this is being rolled out as an experiment,
it has to be explained in those terms. Do we even have the money to
do the study?”

Schleiden claims that the agency has the funds for the study,
and he disputed the legislative-influence allegations. “If it was
done to change the mind of legislators, it isn’t working,” he said.
“They already said that they don’t like it. “If the (Game
Commission’s) senior staff and the executive director recommend it,
then why shouldn’t I go along with it? We aren’t giving in to
anybody.”

Commissioners Roxane Palone and Greg Isabella, who both voted
against the change in January, aren’t so sure. Since the meeting I
have received several letters from people who hunt in 2D, and none
are in favor of shortening the concurrent seasons,” Palone said
recently. 

Isabella, who owns a gun shop and shooting range in
Philadelphia, claimed hunters that he hears from are unhappy about
the proposed changes.

“I talk to more hunters than any other commissioner or even
legislators, and I already have heard from hunters who have camps
in 2G who are pissed off about the lost hunting opportunity from a
shortened season,” he said. “People are also telling me that the
habitat is starting to rebound. 2G should be left out of the
study,” he said.

Palone is skeptical about the study. “I don’t see how they have
enough bucks collared in 2G and 4B for a study,” she said. “I think
that they plan to leave the allocations the same in those four
WMUs, and that goes against what we should be doing.

“I’m afraid that the change might cause hunters to not harvest
enough does and shoot too many bucks.”

Palone admitted she was not sure how she would vote when the
proposal comes up for a second vote at the April meeting.  “I
haven’t seen all of the information yet, but mostly I worry about
losing hunting opportunities,” she explained. “Most schools are
closed on the opening day and now the kids won’t be able to hunt
does.”       

Isabella was not second-guessing his original vote, however.
“I’m sticking to my guns at the April meeting,” he said. “If they
are going to do a study, it should be only in 2D and 3A.”

Schleiden’s support for the proposed changes seemed to be
wavering. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chris
Rosenberry. If questions about a negative effect on the current
study are valid, I’ll just have to see. My vote is not cast in
stone.”

For Commissioner Hill, the vote has larger implications. “It is
really science versus politics,” he said. “Some people are hopeful
that this isn’t a study, but the beginning of going back to the way
things were.”

Shissler worries that this could be the first sign of “a return
to the failed and imprudent policies of the past” that attempted to
manage deer based on negotiations rather than science. “If this is
a real science-based proposal, the public and the commissioners who
represent us should have the opportunity to see a detailed research
proposal presented and explained by the deer biologists we employ,”
he said.

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