Harrisburg – At the behest of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League and its wildlife-management consultant John Eveland, a state representative has written legislation that would result in fewer antlerless deer licenses being sold.
Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton and Centre, recently introduced HB 2034 that he said is "designed to focus the mission of the Pennsylvania Game Commission on sportsmen, while also giving hunters more involvement in the management of white-tailed deer."
Hanna's legislation would establish "a bipartisan Antlerless Deer Harvest Committee" that would set antlerless deer allocations after getting recommendatios from Game Commission biologists.
"Within the last decade, the Game Commission has changed its deer-management strategy," Hanna said. "This change has demonstrated that the agency is less focused on the needs of sportsmen.
"As such, my legislation would amend the duties of the Game Commission to focus primarily on serving the interests of sportsmen, including maximizing the sustainable yield of the white-tailed deer herd."
Currently, according to Hanna, the Game Commission determines antlerless deer allocations with minimal public involvement.
"Under my bill, an Antlerless Deer Harvest Committee would review the information and calculations and accept the recommendations or propose their own allocations," Hanna said. "The decision of the committee would be binding on the Game Commission."
"Since sportsmen are the primary means used by the Game Commission to manage game, I believe it is imperative that we ensure that the commission is serving the interests of our sportsmen and providing for their involvement in the management of our wildlife resources," Hanna said.
The bill awaits action by the House Game and Fisheries Committee, and it is not clear whether it stands a chance of adoption. Hanna said he does not expect it to be considered for months.
The majority chairman of the panel, Rep. John Evans, R-Crawford and Erie, did not return a phone call to say whether he supports the bill, and whether he will schedule public hearings on it.
Hanna, who is a hunter, explained that his concern about low deer numbers "percolates" from several sportsmen's groups that he has been working with, namely the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League, along with Eveland.
Eveland, of Delmont, is the independent wildlife biologist who has been sharply critical of the commission's deer policies, contending that annual overharvests of does has reduced the deer herd in the northern tier to unacceptably low levels.
Under Hanna's bill, the Antlerless Deer Harvest Committee would be comprised of five members, with just one coming from the Game Commission.
The other four members would be appointed by the four legislative caucases – the House Democrats, the House Republicans, the Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans.
"And I can guarantee that the Democratic Caucus will appoint members who have extensive deer-hunting experience and who are committed to deer and habitat and are responsive to sportsmen."
Game Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, who represents the northcentral region including Wildlife Management Unit 2G, is skeptical of Hanna's proposal.
"It seems that Mike wants to replace one politically appointed board with another politically appointed board and get a different result," he said.
"The deer board would have one advantage of not having to worry about the adverse impacts that too many deer would have on the rest of the state's wildlife.
"I know that there have been some claims that deer only affect three or four other species in the state – but that is pure poppycock."
Putnam noted that he understands the frustration of everyone involved in the deer-management process. "I am especially concerned with Unit 2G, but eliminating the doe season there is not the answer," he said.
"Parts of 2G have very good habitat and can support a lot more deer, parts of 2G have poor habitat, low deer numbers and cannot support many more deer."
Game Commission staff is reviewing all of the management unit boundaries, Putnam pointed out, but the review and adjustments will take two years.
"If we can better define the habitats in 2G, we could do a better job of balancing the herd with the habitat," he said.
Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, believes Hanna's bill is misguided.
"As a commissioner I spend 52 weeks a year learning everything I can about the deer herd and antlerless allocations for my district," he said.
"By attending regional and county-level Federation of Sportsmen's Club meetings, visiting local sportsman's clubs, attending sport shows and talking to thousands of sportsmen, I make an effort to understand conditions in my area," he said.
"In addition, I hike, hunt and visit state game lands in my district to see habitat conditions first hand."
Throughout the year, commissioners receive a wealth of data and information from the Game Commission's foresters and biologists, Martone stressed.
"These professionals spend their lives on deer and deer management and represent nationally-recognized experts in their fields," he said. "Commissioners have the unique opportunity to discuss the research and recommendations of these professionals.
"I find it hard to imagine how any individual or committee could be better informed and more dedicated to the sportsmen of Pennsylvania than the Board of Commissioners."