In managing deer in Pennsylvania, Game Commissions wrestles with opposing challenges
On some level, we all know and appreciate how difficult it is trying to manage deer in a state like Pennsylvania – with its big cities and surrounding suburbs in the southeast and southwest, its huge, heavily forested mountainous area that is mostly public land across the Northern Tier, and all manner of urban-rural interfaces everywhere else.
Even the most dogged Game Commission critics have to realize – although some pretend not to – the challenge the agency faces trying to control and adjust deer numbers in the various regions across a big state for an increasingly urban populace that now includes just one hunter among every dozen citizens.
Clearly it's a no-win situation. Experience has shown that one-size-fits-all strategies won't work going forward.
And those of us who are so fortunate (my bias, no apology) to live in the scenic, less developed middle of the state among the mountains – where we love to see and hunt deer in natural settings – often don't think much about the urban deer dilemma.
Not long ago I had daughters living in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia suburbs who saw many more deer than I ever do. Coming home from work through the suburbs after midnight, nervously watching deer on and along roads – and having to dodge them while driving – was a near nightly reality.
You love deer way less when you worry constantly about hitting them, having an accident and screwing up your life. Some folks deny it, but that's a real concern, and the latest State Farm Insurance Company accident statistics again show Pennsylvania, by far, is the state where drivers hit the most deer.
I was left pondering the challenge the Game Commission faces after listening to commissioners discuss several issues during their recent work session in Harrisburg. They continue to wrestle with how to control burgeoning deer numbers in extremely urban areas, and allow enough deer to satisfy hunters in rural areas without having so many that the toll they take on crops, forests and motorists is unacceptable.
Most sportsmen simply seem to disregard the crop damage aspect, but it's real and significant. I have heard several farmers suggest sportsmen should write checks to them to cover the cost of feeding too many deer so they have lots of bucks to hunt. They have a point. Some farmers pay a steep price for deer.
According to discussion at the work session, it looks like the Game Commission will take important action on two opposite issues related to deer management at their meeting later this month.
First, they are launching a fawn-predation study to try learn whether coyotes, bears and perhaps bobcats are killing more deer than before, limiting deer numbers in rural areas. The cost, scope and even the need for such a study were hotly debated last year. It is intended to address hunter complaints.
It seems now commissioners will pull the trigger on a scaled-back research project done with Penn State's help. A similar study was completed in 2001.
The actions commissioners will take related to urban deer management are harder to predict.
But it looks like they will vote to move the boundary of the special regulations area in and around Philadelphia (Wildlife Management Unit 5D) out to include more densely populated and developed suburbs.
And they may create some sort of urban deer tag that would allow bowhunters who can get access to kill more nuisance urban deer. Those actions, combined with a reduction of doe tags in adjacent Unit 5C, may result in reversing a perceived overharvest of deer in rural areas outside of the suburbs.