Lawmakers ask for proposals for audit

Harrisburg – Pennsylvania’s deer-management program is about to
be run through the grinder. And parties on all sides of this
divisive issue appear poised to eat whatever comes out in the end –
no matter how it tastes.

The Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee on
April 11 issued its “request for proposals” on conducting an audit
of the deer-management program.

“The changes that have occurred in the commission’s approach to
deer management have been welcomed and accepted by some segments of
the state’s population, but opposed and rejected by others,” the
request for proposals states. “The issue is one that has become
increasingly controversial and, among some, has engendered
suspicion and mistrust of the intentions of the Pennsylvania Game
Commission.

“In response to these issues and concerns … (the Legislature
asked the committee) to conduct an independent third-party,
science-based evaluation of the state’s current deer-management
plan program and practices.”

Charles Bolgiano, of Lancaster, legislative liaison for the
Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, which is one of the leading
critics of the deer-management program, called the audit request
“about everything that we hoped for regarding an audit of the
deer-management program.”

Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the Game Commission, echoed comments
that Carl Roe, the agency’s executive director, has made on several
occasions.

“We welcome the science-based study and are pleased that it will
be accomplished by an entity outside the commonwealth that will
have considerable expertise in the appropriate fields,” Feaser
said.

State Rep. Gordon Denlinger, of Lancaster County, who sits on
the House Game and Fisheries Committee, said “the need for an
independent, out-of-state audit is evident” and that he’s “anxious
to see some results.”

According to the RFP, the audit seeks a firm to accomplish the
following:

€ Determine how many deer are in Pennsylvania and in each of the
22 wildlife management units and the age and sex of those deer.

€ Identify the circumstances and problems that led to a “new
approach” to deer management around 2000 and how the goals of the
current program address those problems.

€ Conduct a science-based review of the current program and its
individual components, and determine the impacts the program has
had on the size and health of our deer herd, healthy forest
regeneration – including the potential effects of factors other
than the size of the deer herd, such as acid rain – and on reducing
deer-human conflicts.

€ Compare Pennsylvania’s program to programs employed in other
states, including Maryland, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin,
“to determine if there are more proven and scientifically-based
deer-management methods available that should be considered for use
in Pennsylvania.”

€ Determine if our wildlife management units are the right size
or if reducing them would lead to better deer management.

€ Develop findings and recommendations for improving the Game
Commission’s program.

Everything the Game Commission does under its management program
will be evaluated, including the way the agency defines “healthy”
deer and forests and the way the agency collects data and then
draws conclusions based on that data.

“This is something that’s long overdue,” Bolgiano said. “We’ve
never had a complete audit of the deer-management program in the
history of the Game Commission.”

Feaser acknowledged the program as a whole has never been
evaluated. But he said some of its component parts have.

“We’ve submitted various parts of the program for peer review by
wildlife biologists from all over the country,” he said.

Those parts that, in recent years, were reviewed and accepted by
the wildlife-biology community at large, Feaser said, include the
way the agency estimates the annual total harvest of deer by
hunters and the agency’s studies that determine the survival rate
of fawns in Pennsylvania.

State House of Representatives Resolution 642, which was passed
by the House to authorize the Legislative Budget and Finance
Committee to hire a contractor to perform the deer audit,
stipulates that the contractor must be “an independent,
out-of-state third party.”

Companies that have worked in Pennsylvania previously will not
necessarily be locked out of the bid process.

The request for proposals states interested companies must
identify any work they’ve done the past six years for the Game
Commission and/or the state Department of Conservation and Natural
Resources.

Also, the request for proposals encourages audit companies to
impanel a group of professionals with expertise in wildlife biology
and scientific deer management from academic institutions and state
wildlife agencies to assist with the scientific review of the
deer-management program.

Those panel members must come from outside Pennsylvania, the
request stipulates, and the members must be approved by the
Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

Proposals to conduct the audit must be received by the committee
by May 14 and must include budgets stating how much the work will
cost. So far, the committee has not set a ceiling on how much it
will pay for the audit.

A confidential draft of the audit is due by Feb. 8, 2009, and
the final report is due April 6, 2009.

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee is to be the sole
contact point for companies interested in doing the audit.

So that’s what’s on the table. And it has buy-in from the
Legislature that’s been withholding a hunting-license-fee hike due
to the public outcry over deer management; the Game Commission that
says its program is appropriate and scientifically sound; and
Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania that says the program is
flawed.

Whether or not all those entities really will accept as fact the
findings of the audit and move forward from there remains to be
seen.

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