PA: Biologist says PGC deer numbers are deceptive

State College, Pa. – An independent wildlife scientist who has
been sharply critical of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s
deer-management program has issued a document questioning 2010-11
harvest estimates recently released by the agency.

In the report titled, “An Independent Assessment of the Game
Commission’s Estimated Annual Deer Harvests (2000-2010),” John
Eveland, of Delmont, contends that the commission’s calculations
are not realistic or credible.

“The Game Commission claims that an average of 333,338 deer have
been harvested by hunters per year during the past six years,” he
said.

“That’s an unlikely circumstance given that in order to support
such a harvest it would require a corresponding average summer deer
density of 51 deer per square mile on every square mile of
forestland and woodlot and on every parcel of agricultural cropland
and pasture land in the commonwealth.”

In the paper, Eveland, a former Penn State researcher and
Westinghouse ecologist, repeatedly pointed out that the commission
doesn’t have a handle on deer numbers.

Referring to the Game Commission’s own deer-management plan, he
noted that the agency’s deer-management objectives are no longer
defined by deer densities.

Eveland pointed out that the agency does not consider how many deer
are in Pennsylvania at any given time, but instead measures deer
health, forest habitat health and deer-human conflicts.

That results, he believes, in the commission overestimating the
whitetail population.

“Managing deer without knowing how many deer are in Pennsylvania
represents a mechanism for reducing the herd to any desired level
without the need for accountability,” he wrote.

“That creates a heightened risk of inadvertent overharvest – a
recipe that could result in collapsing the herd.”

In his report, which is available online at the Allegheny County
Sportsmen’s League website at www.acsl-pa.org (click on
“Investigations”), Eveland suggests that the Game Commission’s
annual harvest estimates might be explained either by incompetence
or deception.

“Because a summer population of 1,718,002 with a corresponding
average density of 51 deer per square mile is not likely to exist
in Pennsylvania, then it might be concluded that an average harvest
of 333,338 per year cannot occur,” he wrote.

“That would make the Game Commission’s harvest estimates
inaccurate.

“If, however, the PGC’s harvest estimates are accurate, then a dire
circumstance likely exists – the deer herd is being grossly
overharvested and is collapsing.”

Eveland was quick to point out he has no agenda in providing
another view in the deer debate, which has consumed Pennsylvania
sportsmen for the last decade, other than to reveal what he
perceives to be the truth.

“Elected representatives and the public have to rely on the Game
Commission for their scientific information, and I thought I would
just give them an alternative,” he said.

“The purpose of my assessment was to determine the minimum size of
the statewide deer herd that would be required to support and
maintain the level of harvested deer that the commission has
annually estimated.

“These figures would represent an indicator as to the veracity and
integrity of the commission’s estimated annual deer-harvest
claims.”

Eveland noted that there is widespread skepticism among hunters
about the Game Commission’s estimate that a total of 316,240 deer
(both antlered and antlerless) were harvested in 2010-11 hunting
seasons.

“Many sportsmen with first-hand field experience remain convinced
that the agency’s statewide herd-reduction program has been so
dramatic that deer are virtually unhuntable in some areas,” he
said.

And the hunter harvest does not even represent the total number of
deer lost from the population, Eveland pointed out, but instead
represents only 71 percent of annual mortality.

Other losses are attributed to vehicles, natural causes, unknown
causes, illegal activity and predation, according to commission
figures.

“So total annual deer mortality in Pennsylvania – as indicated by
the commission’s own calculations – for this past year would have
been 445,408 deer,” he said.

“In order to replenish such a high annual mortality, it would mean
that 1,272,594 deer occur overwinter and that a summer population
of 1,718,002 deer exists.

“Over the past six years, that would be an average of 51 deer on
every square mile of habitable land in the state,” Eveland added.
“With all due respect, I am not buying it. That’s just not
credible.”

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