Proposed predator study would make Pennsylvania Game Commission look bad
Do you think deer are more important than bears, bobcats and coyotes? Many hunters would readily answer "yes" to that question.
Do you think, to protect deer fawns, many more bears, bobcats and coyotes should be killed? Again, some – perhaps even many – hunters would say "yes." I doubt the general public would agree.
Related to those questions, Pennsylvania Game commissioners participated in an interesting conversation about a proposed predator study at their May 19 work session in Harrisburg. I wrote a thorough news story about the discussion and a column about what it might mean to hunters – both of which appear in the June 4 issue of the newspaper – but this is a good place to examine the subject further.
The study, which as proposed would unfold over five years and cost a whopping $3.9 million, begs the question, what's the value of a white-tailed deer compared to that of a black bear, bobcat or coyote? And how far are Pennsylvanians willing to go to protect deer at the expense of those other species?
Right now, an average one out of two fawns does not live to see its first birthday in the Keystone State, and of those that fall victim to predators, by far most die in the first three months of their lives. Recent research in the Southeast and Upper Peninsula of Michigan has painted an even grimmer picture, showing that three out of four fawns are killed.
The predator study discussed by game commissioners – which will never be done because of its price tag and the controversy it would generate – is aimed at determining what impact predators are having on deer populations and what, if anything, can or should be done to minimize predation. That topic has often been debated by biologists, commissioners, sportsmen and lawmakers.
In fact a bill was recently introduced in the state House that would create a bounty on coyotes. Because enough people know that bounties on coyotes have proven not to work in other places, I don't think the bill will ever become a law, but it shows the frustration folks feel about fawn predation.
The proposed predator study would seek to answer three questions:
- Is predation on fawns by black bears and coyotes compensatory, meaning that if you lowered the population of one predator, would populations of the other increase and result in as many dead fawns as ever?
- Does eliminating predators lead to more deer still alive when the fall hunting seasons arrive?
- And is there a way to control predators efficiently enough to increase deer populations on a scale hunters could notice?
The research would be carried out in three 150-square-mile blocks in Wildlife Management Unit 2G in northcentral Pennsylvania. One would be a control area, where no predator controls would be enacted. Biologists would spend two years reducing black bear populations — by as much as 50 percent — in one of the other areas while trying to do the same with coyotes in the other. They'd go after both predators in each area in the next two years.
Hunters, using longer seasons, would be the tool for reducing bear numbers. Coyotes, which already can be hunted 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, would be eliminated by full-time trappers working year-round.
I shouldn't admit it, but the proposed study seems like a wacky scheme to me. And it would be a public relations nightmare for the Game Commission.
But it is also thought provoking.