State forests to get more DMAP

Harrisburg – In years past, the Pennsylvania Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources has welcomed with open arms
hunters willing to shoot antlerless deer.

That still remains the case, but with a twist.

This fall, DCNR – which manages state forests and state parks –
is going to try and direct hunters more precisely to those areas
where it’s experiencing the most problems with deer, or at least to
those areas with a lack of forest regeneration that’s being blamed
in large part on deer.

The department has enrolled 870,517 acres of state forest in the
deer management assistance program, or DMAP, for 2008. It has asked
the Pennsylvania Game Commission for an accompanying 14,550 DMAP
coupons, which allow hunters to shoot antlerless deer on specific
tracts of land.

Last year, by comparison, DCNR enrolled less state forest land
in the program – 860,800 acres – but got more coupons, 17,500
coupons.

At first blush, it would seem DCNR is backing off from DMAP a
bit. But that’s not the case, said Seth Cassell, chief of
communications in DCNR’s bureau of forestry.

“The statewide numbers don’t really tell much of a story.
They’re just sort of what everything adds up to in the end,” he
said.

There are indeed tracts of forest land where the department is
seeking fewer coupons. It sought 440 DMAP coupons for Forbes State
Forest last fall, for example; this year, it’s asked for just
230.

Ed Callahan, district forester for the Forbes, was not available
for comment. In cases like the Forbes, however, the decrease in the
number of coupons being sought is a reflection of improved – if
still fragile – forest habitat, Cassell said.

That’s not equally true in every forest, however. The Sproul and
Elk state forests, for example, are the most overbrowsed in the
state, and have been for decades, Cassell said.

That’s why, in those forests, – which lie in Wildlife Management
Unit 2G, where the Game Commission eliminated doe hunting on the
first five days of the firearms deer season – DCNR is asking for
dramatically higher DMAP coupon allocations.

Last year, DCNR received 1,000 DMAP coupons good for 50,400
acres of the Sproul. This year, it’s seeking 1,650 coupons for
82,700 acres. Likewise, DCNR got 600 coupons good for 30,000 acres
of Elk State Forest last year. This year, it’s seeking 1,300
coupons good for 131,500 acres.

“We’re seeing some positive signs in habitat conditions across
the state,” said bureau of forestry director Dan Devlin. “Some
districts, such as Tiadaghton, Moshannon and Tioga, saw reductions
in DMAP tags or acreage because of what we’re seeing on the ground
in terms of forest habitat and the reduced need for deer exclosure
fences. We’re encouraged by this progress.

“There are many areas, however, that still show limited signs of
recovery given existing deer impacts. Sproul and Elk state forests
are just two examples of where DCNR is taking a more aggressive
approach with DMAP this year,” Devlin said.

Game Commissioner Russ Schleiden, of Centre County, said he’s
glad to see DCNR reacting that way. DMAP is designed to give
landowners the ability to have a greater hand in controlling deer
on specific properties, he said. When commissioners – in a 4-3 vote
– agreed to shorten doe season by five days in four wildlife
management units, his hope, at least, was that landowners who still
felt troubled by deer would use DMAP to address that.

DCNR seems to be doing just that, he said.

“People wanted a tool to concentrate on the hot spots, and we
gave them that tool in DMAP. It makes a lot of sense to use it,”
Schleiden said. “That’s the way to go.”

The job of determining how best to use hunters via the DMAP
program is still very much a work in progress, though, Cassell
said. There’s ongoing internal debate within the agency over
whether it’s best to focus hunters on less land to get the maximum
impact or to spread them out over a greater area.

What all within the agency believe is that DCNR’s enrollment in
DMAP – in light of the changes in the four units where doe season
has been shortened by five days – provides hunters with something
unique.

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