Hints dropped about deer program future

Harrisburg — Things might start heating up again on Pennsylvania’s deer-management front.
It’s been relatively quiet the last few years, with few changes to seasons. But at their January board meeting, some commissioners hinted at changes that might come.
Commissioner Bob Schlemmer, of Westmoreland County, who was elected to a second term as president, said he wants to look at those areas of the state that generate the most complaints about having too few deer, with an eye toward seeing how things can be improved.
“We’re going to look at some of the large cold spots and see what we can do there,” he said.
There’s no doubt the deer situation has changed over time, said Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County. Areas of the state that offered “tremendous deer hunting” in the 1970s, such as Sproul State Forest, can’t replicate that today.
The problem is habitat, he said. There’s far less of the early successional habitat that provides browse now compared to then, he said, and when acorn crops are spotty as they have been the last several years, deer suffer.
“We’ve got some very large areas out there with very little food for deer,” Putnam said.
Whether there’s anything the commission can do to address deer numbers in those areas is unclear, he said. The answer may be that there’s nothing the agency can do, he said.
“But I think we need to say that” if it’s the case, he said.
In the meantime, the board’s newest member, Commissioner Tim Layton, of Somerset County, asked agency staff to investigate the pros and cons of returning to separate buck and doe seasons, with two weeks of buck hunting followed by three days of doe, as was the case prior to the early 2000s.
“I don’t necessarily want to go back to that. But I think it’s worth looking at,” Layton said.
He said he’s heard from hunters who would prefer a return to the old ways. They see “some value” in a so-called “second season,” in which hunters who went to camp once to hunt bucks return a second time to chase does, he said.
Some obviously think that would improve the deer hunting, too, he added.
The board announced those ideas two days after having listened to public comment on deer, all of it from people who wanted commissioners to go the exact opposite direction and either maintain deer seasons as they are or even expand opportunities.
Brad Nelson, coordinator of the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative, or KQDC, a group of landowners in McKean County working to bring deer numbers in line with the available habitat, said that in 2000, the region had about 30 deer per square mile, on average.
Now, thanks to extended seasons and the deer management assistance program, it’s got about 13 per square mile. 
“We think we’re right about where we need to be,” he said in encouraging commissioners to largely maintain the status quo.
Ned Carter, land manager for Collins Pine Co., the state’s largest private landowner, went a step further and said he’d like to see a “modest” increase in doe tags for Wildlife Management Unit 2F and two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting, among other things.
A biologist representing Allegheny National Forest echoed those comments, saying that two weeks of concurrent hunting offers more opportunity for hunters, and especially those who have trouble getting time off work or students who can’t get out of school.

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