No plan for private land doe tags in Pennsylvania
Harrisburg — Pennsylvania’s deer management system may soon have a twin.
Wisconsin – like Pennsylvania, traditionally one of the top five or 10 in the country for hunting license sales – is big on deer hunting. It’s also typically a hotbed of controversy, with hunters having a sometimes frosty relationship with the Department of Natural Resources over how best to manage whitetails.
Things have been testy enough in recent years that Gov. Scott Walker hired James Kroll, a nationally-acclaimed Texas researcher, to review the state’s deer program. Kroll just released his recommendations recently.
His vision for white-tailed deer in Wisconsin – generated with the help of former Game Commission biologist Gary Alt, who led the way in creating Pennsylvania’s current system for managing deer – is reminiscent of what’s going on here right now.
Kroll suggested, among other things, that Wisconsin develop a deer management assistance program to give landowners a say in deer on their own properties; that it do away with numbers-based deer population estimates and goals; and that it determine whether to legalize crossbows based on public sentiment.
He also suggested that the Department of Natural Resources better involve sportsmen in decision making, while simultaneously taking hunters to task for too long demanding more deer than the landscape can sustain.
“Ironically, by attempting to raise more deer than the land can sustain, they wind up with fewer deer,” reads his final report to Gov. Walker.
He took things one step further, though. In his recommendations, Kroll suggested the state issue public lands-only doe tags.
That’s different from Pennsylvania. But not as different as some might think.
That idea has been discussed here, in a way. Some hunters have called for doe tags that are specific to private land, with the thought that they would limit any overharvest of deer on places like state and national forests.
The Game Commission has discussed the issue many times, said board President Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County. But it’s never moved in that direction, and it has no plans to do so now either, at least to his knowledge, he said.
There are a variety of reasons for that, related to both deer and deer hunters.
For starters, the idea that antlerless deer are being killed at a vastly greater rate on public land than private is more myth than reality, said Chris Rosenberry, the biologist who heads the commission’s deer section.
A study in which the commission radio collared antlerless deer and then monitored their mortality found that harvest rates on public and private land “were essentially the same, within 2 or 3 percentage points,” he said.
“When we get down to the nuts and bolts of it, we’re not seeing a large overkill on public land,” Rosenberry added.
Studies of collared does and bucks that have revealed how far they move also suggests that limiting tags to one type of property or another, in a state where most game lands in particular are relatively small, would be pointless, Rosenberry added. Deer too often move too far for invisible boundaries to work, he said.
Restricting tags to one kind of property or another could hurt hunters, though, Martone said. There’s lot of public land in some counties, he said, but in others it accounts for just 3 to 4 percent of the total. A lot of hunters could be left without anywhere to go, he said.
“It fell apart right away for me as soon as I saw the great differences between those percentages of public and private land,” Martone said.
“One way or another, what you’d really be doing is taking away opportunity. I take that very seriously. It would take a lot of convincing to tell me that’s the way we should go.”
The commission’s deer management assistance program, or DMAP, already allows for landowners to address areas with too many deer, said Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County. It can work to produce healthier, bigger deer on public land, he said, as is evidenced by the work of the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative.
On that combination of public land in northwestern Pennsylvania, annual examinations of hunter-killed deer have revealed that the deer being taken now are heavier on average, and the bucks being taken have more points and wider antler spreads, he said.
That tells him the commission’s program is, and can continue to, work.
“My sense is that we have a plan in place that will work,” he said.