PGC 336,200 deer harvest is in dispute
Harrisburg — The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently reported that hunters harvested an estimated 336,200 deer in the state’s 2011-12 seasons, and that announcement ignited an uproar among many sportsmen.
That harvest figure represents 6 percent over the harvest the agency estimated for the previous year.
According to the commission, hunters took 127,540 antlered deer in the 2011-12 seasons, which represents a 4 percent increase from the previous license year’s harvest of 122,930.
Also, the commission reported that hunters harvested 208,660 antlerless deer in 2011-12, which is an increase of 8 percent from the 193,310 antlerless deer reported taken in 2010-11.
“This year’s antlered deer harvest is slightly above average harvest since 2005, when the Game Commission began efforts to stabilize deer populations in most of the state,” said Carl Roe, agency executive director.
“Antlered deer harvests increased in 13 of the state’s 22 wildlife management units. Those units in which the antlered deer harvest increased were WMUs 1B, 2A, 2B, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4D, 4E, 5A, 5B and 5D.”
However, an independent wildlife biologist who works closely with the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League immediately called those numbers a “scientifically ridiculous harvest estimate that can only be attributed to incompetence or deception.
“In order to harvest 336,200 deer in 2011 as the Game Commission claims, it would require an overwinter population of 1,352,917 and a summer herd size of 1,826,438 deer,” wrote John Eveland, of Delmont, in an email that was sent to state legislators among many others.
“This represents a summer density of 69 deer per square mile on every square mile of forested land in the state.
“If we include all other land and water areas in the commonwealth, totaling 46,058 square miles, the Game Commission’s claimed harvest estimate of 336,200 deer represents 29 deer per square mile on every square mile of forest, agricultural cropland and pasture, city and town, industrial and municipal park, highway, lake and river in the state.”
However, Ralph Martone, of New Castle, president of the Board of Game Commissioners, dismissed Eveland’s assessment as misguided.
“The problem with John Eveland’s criticism is apparent when you look at neighboring states,” he said. “Pennsylvania’s antlered deer harvest of 2.8 bucks per square mile is in line with neighboring states like Maryland’s 3.8, Ohio’s 2.1, New York’s 2.3, Virginia’s 2.7 and even Michigan’s 3.8 antlered deer per square mile.“
For antlerless deer, Pennsylvania’s harvest of 4.5 does per square mile is again similar to our neighbors like Maryland’s 7.5, Ohio’s 3.8, New York’s 2.6, Virginia’s 3.5 and Michigan’s 3.5 antlerless deer per square mile, Martone pointed out.
“The process used by the Game Commission to develop harvest estimates is completely transparent,” Martone said. “Everything from the number of harvests reported by hunters to the quantity of deer examined at processors is published.”
The procedure used to estimate harvests based on these numbers has undergone numerous peer reviews by nationally recognized experts, Martone noted.
“Each time, the procedure has been validated as a reliable method for estimating harvests,” he said. “It is a shame that once again this year an amateur naturalist with questionable credentials criticizes the Game Commission’s highly qualified and dedicated deer team.”
Martone characterized members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer team as some of the best, most professional biologists in the country. “Despite frequent criticism, they continue to provide the board with the best possible information and recommendations.”
The harvest estimates for 2011-12 seasons are based on 114,000 harvest reports submitted by hunters to the Game Commission, noted Calvin DuBrock, commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director.
Of the reports submitted, 49 percent were done using the long-time report card mail-in system, 47 percent were done through the agency’s online reporting system and only 3 percent were received through the agency’s new toll-free telephone system.
Reporting rates are determined by cross-referencing these reports with the data collected from the 26,000 deer examined by Game Commission personnel in the field and at processors, a commission press release stated.
DuBrock noted that reporting rates varied widely. For antlered deer, the average reporting rate was 37 percent. For antlerless deer, the average reporting rate was 33 percent, he said.
Eveland explained that he used the Game Commission’s biological data in performing his “scientific assessment” of the 2011-12 deer-harvest estimate. He promised to soon present the information in a formal document.
“From the mid-1980s through the 1990s – before the herd-reduction program – the Game Commission’s average annual harvest was 379,137 deer,” he wrote in an email.
“With this in mind, then considering (1) that the commission has estimated that the herd has been reduced by 50-90 percent in some areas, (2) that the agency’s goal in northern tier counties is five to six deer per square mile, (3) that according to the commission densities as low as one to two deer per square mile may exist in some areas, and (4) that one of the agency’s biologists stated that. ‘We’ve literally exterminated deer in some areas, and still regeneration has not changed’ – then how can the commission claim the harvest estimate today is practically identical to the harvest estimates of the 1980s and ‘90s?”
But comparisons between the current year’s harvest and historic antlered deer harvest often do not consider hunter participation levels, DuBrock pointed out. In 1986, there were roughly 1 million deer hunters in Pennsylvania. This past year, around 700,000 license buyers participated in deer hunting seasons.
“When viewed in this context, harvest success rates are comparable to the past,” he said.
Yearling bucks comprised 50 percent of the 2011-12 antlered harvest, and 2.5-year-old or older bucks comprised 50 percent, DuBrock noted. Prior to the start of current antler restrictions in 2002, yearling bucks comprised about 80 percent of the antlered harvest.
“Current antler restrictions have achieved their objective to protect most yearling bucks from harvest and allow them to reach at least 2.5 years of age,” he said.
“In recent years, the composition of the antlered harvest has hovered around a 50:50 split between yearling and 2.5-year-old and older bucks.”