Pennsylvania game commis­sion adjusts doe tag figures

Harrisburg — It’s going to take change to maintain the status quo in regards to deer this year, it seems.

Pennsylvania game commis­sioners gave final approval to hunting seasons and bag limits at their most recent meeting in Harrisburg. They determined the number of doe licenses to be available as part of that.

Their objectives are to reduce the number of deer in three wildlife management units – 1B, 3C and 3D – and maintain them at existing levels in the remaining 19.

Achieving the latter goal meant tweaking the norm a bit, though.

Commissioners actually increased the number of doe licenses to be available – though not always by as much as biologists recommended – in seven units.

In unit 2G, for example, the commission allocated 23,000 doe tags last fall. Biologists wanted 43,000 for this year. Commissioners ultimately settled on 33,000, one of seven cases in which they deviated from the official recommendation.

The additional doe licenses are needed to keep the herd where it is because it’s seen “some pretty significant population increases” over the last four years, said Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County.

Unit 2G, for example, had 67,875 deer in 2007, according to commission estimates. Last year it had 109,741.

Ned Carter, land manager for Collins Pine Co., the state’s largest private landowner, told commissioners during the public testimony portion of their meeting that if such growth continues, recent habitat improvements could evaporate.

“If we stabilize things where we are, though, I think we can sustainably manage our lands,” Carter said.

Putnam said he and the board share that goal. The doe license allocation is meant to achieve it, he added.

“I don’t want to see us lose some of the gains we’ve made,” Putnam said.

Maintaining the status quo meant offering fewer doe licenses than last year in nine other units. The most striking of those are 2B, 5C and 5B, which surround special regulations areas.

For years, the objective has been to reduce deer numbers in those highly urban, populated areas. That’s no longer the case.

The change was prompted by the random survey of state residents done this winter for the commission by Responsive Management. It showed that most people are OK with the number of deer out there right now.

In unit 2B, for example, 52 percent of those surveyed indicated the deer population was “just right.” Nine percent said it was “too low,” and 32 percent said it was “too high.”

The commission’s change is a reflection of that, said Chris Rosenberry, chief deer biologist for the agency.

“Obviously, deer are not equally distributed across the wildlife management unit or any land area. So there may exist areas where residents want fewer deer,” Rosenberry said. “But for the wildlife management unit, the objective is to stabilize the deer population based on the citizen survey.”

Of course, none of the allocations will keep everyone happy, if history is any guide.

The commission this winter did two surveys, one of deer hunters at random and one of hunters known to have killed at least one deer this past fall. About two-thirds of respondents said the deer population is too low, Rosenberry said.

Interestingly, that’s virtually the same percentage that complained of too few deer in the mid-1990s – “what some would refer to as the good old days” – when a similar survey was conducted, he added.

The same surveys showed that 36 percent of hunters support the goals of having healthy deer and healthy forests, but not if that means seeing fewer deer, noted Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams

County. Fifty-one percent said they would not support the goal of minimizing deer-human conflicts if that means fewer deer.

All of that dismayed him more than anything, he said.

“What I take from that is, hunters might say they agree with our goals and everything, but when it comes to deer, the bottom line is they just want to see more of them,” Weaner said.

“The goals are OK, but if achieving those goals means reducing deer populations, that support erodes considerably,” Rosenberry agreed.

Weaner also pointed out that 8 percent of hunters known to have killed a deer denied it.

“We know they took a deer. We saw it at a butcher shop. And they still said they hadn’t killed anything,” Weaner said.

That, he added, tells him that certain people will never be satisfied with any deer program, no matter what.

“We can get all excited about what we see and hear here today, but at some point we just have to do what we think is right and move ahead,” Weaner said. 

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