Rewards set for deer in a study

Harrisburg – Any deer hunter would say it’s rewarding to shoot a
whitetail. This year, though, that will be more true than ever for
some.

The reason? Some whitetails in the woods this fall will be worth
$100 to the person who shoots them.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission – in an attempt to encourage
participation in a study that it couldn’t otherwise afford to do –
is going to pay hunters $100 for reporting the taking of a tagged
deer.

Last season, the commission changed deer season in four wildlife
management units: 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B. There, hunting was for bucks
only the first five days of the firearms deer season, then open for
bucks and does the last seven days.

The change was labeled an experiment, one meant to see whether
the commission could keep deer in balance with their habitat while
offering a shorter doe season.

At the time, commission biologists said they would study deer in
those units over four years to measure the impact of the changes.
Virtually no research was done last year, the first of the study,
though. By the time commissioners changed the season, biologists
had no time to hire crews and capture and tag deer.

Things are different now. Year two of the study will actually
involve catching deer. That work began in earnest the last week of
January.

Typically, captured deer are fitted with radio or GPS collars
that allow researchers to track their movements and determine when
and how they die. Catching deer is costly – sometimes $1,000 per
animal – so researchers like to use the collars to get all of the
data they possibly can, said Duane Diefenbach, director of the
Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State
University and one of the leaders of the study.

But collars are costly, and the commission doesn’t have the
money to pay for them.

With the goal of capturing 960 deer per year for three years,
the commission would have needed as many as 2,880 collars, which
can range in price from $250 to $4,000 each, Diefenbach said. That
would have put the cost of collars at anywhere from $720,000 to
$11.5 million.

Unable to afford that, the commission is instead going to put
collars on as many as 120 deer a year statewide, at a cost of
$90,000 to $1.44 million.

The other 840 deer captured each year will be outfitted with ear
tags, said Chris Rosenberry, head of the commission’s deer
management section. Those tags – which are very inexpensive by
comparison – will contain a toll-free number. Hunters who shoot a
tagged deer and report it via that number will be paid a $100
reward, Diefenbach said.

“Bottom line, it’s a cheaper approach for the agency than just
going with straight radio collars,” he said. “We’re not approaching
this lightly because we need good data, and we need to get it in
the most cost-effective manner.”

The tags are small enough to be essentially invisible until a
hunter has a deer in hand, Rosenberry said, so it’s unlikely
hunters will shoot deer specifically for the reward. Collars are
much more obvious and so will not carry a reward, though hunters
can shoot deer wearing them, he added.

Offering hunters rewards for reporting kills has worked before,
Rosenberry said. Wildlife agencies around the country have used
them on doves, pheasants, waterfowl, and even turkey gobblers,
including here in Pennsylvania. No one has ever tied a reward to
deer before, however, he said.

The amount of the reward is critical, Diefenbach said. In past
studies on other species, participation from hunters rose to nearly
100 percent when the reward hit the $100 mark.

Whether rewards will work with deer is yet to be seen. In the
past, when hunters have been asked to report collared deer without
being given any incentive, they haven’t always cooperated. At
times, they’ve even tried to conceal the fact they took a deer.

“They may cut (the collar) off and leave it where they killed
the deer. They’ve been known to dispose of collars in locations
other than where they shot the deer. They’ve even tried to destroy
the collar,” he said.

In one case, biologists found the collar from a deer known to
have been harvested in the northcentral region on a truck in
Philadelphia, after someone had apparently hooked it on its bumper
at a roadside rest stop in Snow Shoe, Diefenbach said.

If all of the tagged deer are reported, the commission would
have to pay as much as $252,000 in rewards. Rosenberry isn’t
expecting that to be the case, since some tagged deer will escape
hunters, some will get killed but not reported, and others might
via things like collisions with vehicles. But he is expecting the
agency to pay out “tens of thousands of dollars” over the next
three years.

That’s the cost of getting the information needed to make the
best decisions on managing deer, though, Diefenbach said.

“The purpose here for using the tags is increased cooperation
from hunters,” he said.

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