Pennsylvania Game commissioners want to get doe info sooner

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania game commissioners gave more than they got this time.

The board opened one of its working group meetings – a gathering of the board held prior to each of the agency’s quarterly meetings – to the public for the first time on March 26. They heard many reports, and on everything from maintenance of game lands and Marcellus Shale to the use of prescribed fire and bear seasons.

There were two issues where they were left wanting more, though.

One involved antlerless deer licenses. If commissioners were expecting to hear a recommendation from staff on how many to issue this fall – and several appeared to be – they didn’t get one.

Executive Director Carl Roe said the work of developing a recommendation is still ongoing, moving from biologists to senior staff before going to the board.

That prompted commission President Ralph Martone, of New Castle, to suggest that, next spring, the board hold its work group meeting later so that the recommendation is available. Commis­sioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County, agreed.

“This is probably the No. 1 issue commissioners have to deal with. I think this is the perfect forum to discuss that,” he said.

Delaney also asked for – but did not get – the estimated deer population by wildlife management unit. That’s something an independent audit of the commission’s deer program recommended the agency provide to sportsmen.

Chief deer biologist Chris Rosenberry said those figures will be available at the commission’s next quarterly meeting in late April.

Commissioners did get an explanation of the agency’s estimated deer harvest, and agreed that they think it’s reliable, accurate and trustworthy. Commis­sioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, said he believes the commission’s harvest estimates are good “despite what some people say.”

“I doubt there’s another state around that has a better handle on their count than we do,” Putnam said.

When people doubt the numbers, he said he asks them to show how they might be inaccurate in even one wildlife management unit. To date, no one’s been able to do that, he said.

Some hunters have long called for mandatory check stations as a better way of accounting for deer killed. But Rosenberry pointed out that Ohio has gone away from that very kind of system, and New Jersey is now doing the same.

West Virginia will be the next to get away from that, he added.

He also noted that past surveys of hunters revealed that a majority of hunters themselves don’t want check stations here either.

Hunters have shifted how they report deer here, he added, with as many now reporting kills online as do with cards. But overall reporting rates have stayed consistent for a while.

“I guess what you’re saying is that people who are going to report [a deer] will find a way. And the people who aren’t going to report, it doesn’t matter,” Martone said.

“It’s not a method issue,” Rosenberry agreed.

Commissioners, meanwhile, did offer some insight into a couple of other deer issues they’ll be looking at moving forward.

Rosenberry said he hopes in April to present the results of surveys done in several wildlife management units – including 2D and 2C – where the commission went away from two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting to five days of buck only and seven days of concurrent. Some commissioners are wondering how that’s worked.

The goal of the change was to allow hunters to see more deer early in the season, while ultimately still harvesting the same number so as to meet the commission’s goals.

Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County, though, said it seems as if the change prompted hunters to leave those units for ones with two weeks of concurrent hunting.

“Our goal was not to shift hunter movement. Our goal was to allow hunters to see more deer, which is what they told us they wanted,” he said.

Martone said there’s no doubt the change in seasons prompted some hunters to move; it’s just a matter of how widespread that’s been, he added.

Putnam, meanwhile, suggested the commission might want to limit the use of deer management assistance program coupons – good for taking antlerless deer on specific sites – to regular doe seasons, at least on state park and forest land, as a way of easing complaints from some hunters. More tags could perhaps be issued to compensate for the lost time available to hunters, he said.

“The point of this would not be to change the number of animals killed. It would only change the week they’re being killed,” he said.

Neither Weaner, Martone nor Commissioner Dave Schreffler, of Bedford County, favored the idea. Weaner and Martone said it creates a new problem without solving an existing one, if it even exists. Schreffler explained that a better fix would be to go back to two weeks of concurrent hunting statewide, something he suggested at previous meetings.

He did not have the votes to carry that idea then, and may not when commissioners next gather in late April to give final approval to seasons and bag limits for 2012-13 either.

“You lost that one, Dave,” Delaney said.

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