Harrisburg — Pennsylvania game commissioners may be on the verge of taking significant steps aimed at better management of deer in the extremely urban southeast corner of the state.
Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County, who represents that region on the board, proposed two actions at the commissioners’ mid-December work session.
First, he asked agency staff to research the creation of an urban deer tag to be used in Wildlife Management Units 5C and 5D.
“I am asking, is there a way to target areas where we specifically need tags to go and eliminate tags from others where we don’t want to increase hunting pressure.”
Second, Hoover urged the boundary line between units 5C and 5D be moved and adjusted so that 5D absorbs very urban areas now in 5C, such as parts of the Downingtown area, Exton, and perhaps Allentown, and lessen hunting pressure on rural areas in 5C.
“It is time we look at strategically placing tags in areas where we have got issues, for instance in WMU 5D, which is basically almost completely urbanized,” he said.
“My thought is, why don’t we develop a tag that allows a second buck, an inferior buck, to be taken instead of allowing that deer to be hit by a vehicle and be wasted.”
Hoover stressed that his intent is to focus hunting pressure on nuisance suburban deer only.
“The commission continues to receive complaints from hunters about overharvest of deer in 5C. But if doe tags sales are cut, it would not provide relief to urban locales where too many deer are a problem,” he said.
“My idea needs to be qualified here that we are not going to just throw these tags out there.”
Hoover noted that the commission “dumps” 100,000 antlerless tags into the city and suburbs and they are supposed to be getting into the urban environments. But they typically are not, he contended.
“They’re ending up in the farmlands and forested areas and the deer population is being suppressed in those non-urban locations,” he said.
“This would give us the opportunity to reduce allocations across the board in 5C and then target the urban areas where there is a need for more deer to be removed.”
But Hoover’s suggestion of allowing urban bowhunters to take a second buck and waive antler restrictions in the process was not warmly received.
“I am fine with the urban doe tags, but I just don’t like opening up the Pandora’s box with the second buck tag,” said Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County.
However, Commissioner Dave Putnam seemed to indicate the idea has merit. “If we could give hunters different colored tags and make them use them inside the urban areas, that would solve the issue,” he said.
Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County, advised that the commission should move slowly with patience. This year, he noted, the agency again allowed baiting in urban areas. More than 1,500 baiting permit were sold in 5C and 5D.
Those who purchase baiting permits are required to report whether they kill deer, but those reports are not due until February, so commission officials don’t know yet whether baiting made much of a difference in the southeast deer harvest.
“Like a lot of other things we do, we implement something and say, ‘try this for a couple years to see if it works before we change it,’” he said.
“I recognize the problem that you’re describing and that this is an attempt to address this issue, but it makes sense to me to let it run for couple years to see if baiting helps solve the problem rather than keep throwing things out there,” Weaner told Hoover.
“I understand what you said about a second buck permit, but I would never support that.”
In very urban areas, only hunters who can get permission from landowners can take advantage of a special urban deer tag, Martone said. He called it a question of access.
“In offering special urban deer tags, we will giving them to a very small, select group of hunters who must have permission to huntable properties,” Martone added.
“They already have unlimited antlerless tags because there is no shortage … We won’t be giving these to the average guy. The ones who already have access, we are offering to allow them to kill more deer.”
That is exactly the point, Hoover replied. “The deer need to be removed, so do we care?”
Regarding moving the boundary between units 5C and 5D, agency staff attending the work session professed general agreement with Hoover’s idea.
Unit 5D is all urban, comprised of Philadelphia and suburbs. Unit 5C is both urban and rural.
“Unit 5C is where a lot of the hunter complaints come from – we have mixed habitat – farmland we have wooded areas and we have urban areas,” Hoover said. “So we have to come up with some tools that will allow us to address those issues and we don’t have those tools now.”
The commission wants more deer harvested out of the urban areas not the rural areas, Hoover explained, but he said that is not what is happening in Unit 5C. As a result, an urban deer tag is a tool that is needed.
He suggested moving the boundary between 5C and 5D, making Unit 5D larger, and 5C smaller, resulting in some of the highly populated urban areas. moving to 5D.
“The other option would be to split 5C into two units and to try to find a boundary that would separate the urban Allentown- Northampton areas from Delaware County and some of Chester County where there is more farmland and it is less urban,” Hoover said. “Then we could trim some tags we’re putting out in 5C.”
Chris Rosenberry, the commission’s chief deer biologist, conceded that moving some of 5C into 5D to provide a “more contiguous urban area” might have its advantage.
Agenda items related to an urban deer tag and moving the boundary between wildlife management units 5C and 5D are likely to be included on the agenda of the commission’s quarterly meeting Jan. 25-27, based on discussions at the work session on Dec. 16.