Harrisburg — Shorter doe seasons, fewer doe licenses, disease management area permits and new wildlife management unit boundaries.
Pennsylvania Game Commissioner’s tackled all of those issues, specifically in relation to deer, at their recent board meeting, held April 9-10 in Harrisburg.
The shorter doe seasons came in the form of a move to split hunting seasons in some additional wildlife management units. In years past, commissioners had talked of managing some units with split seasons – five days of buck-only hunting, followed by seven days where bucks and does were legal – and some with concurrent seasons with 12 days of buck and doe hunting as the fair way to go.
That gave hunters a choice, they said. They could pick their wildlife management unit based on the hunting they preferred.
Going forward, though, that choice will be limited.
The commissioners put 18 of 23 management units into the split season format for this fall. The only exceptions are the five most urban units in the state: 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.
Hunters with deer management assistance permits will be able to use them to kill a doe at any time during the two-week firearms season, but those armed only with a regular doe tag will not in more places.
As for doe licenses, commissioners – as usual – tweaked the recommendations of their biologists to put more deer on the landscape.
They settled on offering 4 percent fewer doe licenses this year than last statewide. In roughly a half dozen units, that meant commissioners settled not only on fewer licenses than recommended by biologists – who suggested maintaining deer herds at existing levels in 20 units, reducing them in two (3C and 4B) and growing them in one (3A) – but fewer than they themselves had offered last year.
Commission President Dave Putnam defended the allocation, saying that board members looked at a lot of scientific data provided by staff, then factored in hunter wants. The allocation reflects both, he said, and an attempt to provide a few more deer where possible, without negatively impacting the gains made in forest regeneration and habitat improvement.
That’s what the people behind the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative have been doing, to great success, he said.
The cooperative is a coalition of public and private landowners in northwestern Pennsylvania, with most of it in unit 2F.
There was a time when deer populations there were much higher than they are now, said Ned Carter, a forester with Collins Pine Co., one of the landowners in the cooperative. They went down and have since been allowed to come back up.
They may have come back a bit too much, he said. Populations are above the “sweet spot” of 15 to 20 per square mile that allows for forest regeneration while keeping hunters satisfied, he added. That’s why the cooperative asked commissioners to return to concurrent buck and does seasons, among other things.
There can be such a thing as too few deer, added another Collins Pine forester, Tom Case. Foresters want deer on the landscape, to eat species like pin cherry, he said.
But there needs to be a balance, Carter said.
“I think that’s the common ground we’re all trying to reach,” he said.
Putnam agreed, and said the board is likewise trying to allow as many deer as possible, to keep hunters hunting, without hurting habitat. That’s the challenge, he said.
“We’re searching for the magic number as well,” Putnam said.
In the end, the doe license allocation the board agreed on looks like this: 1A, 46,000; 1B, 29,000; 2A, 43,000; 2B, 61,000; 2C, 31,000; 2D, 55,000; 2E, 21,000; 2F, 22,000; 2G, 22,000; 2H, 6,500; 3A, 19,000; 3B, 28,000; 3C, 36,000; 3D, 25,000; 4A, 30,000; 4B, 26,000; 4C, 25,000; 4D, 33,000, 4E, 25,000; 5A, 19,000; 5B, 50,000; 5C, 70,000; 5D, 24,000.
The biggest change was in unit 5C, where commissioners went from offering 95,000 tags last year to 70,000 this year.
That was prompted by a change in the look of the unit. Commissioners put a chunk of what was unit 5C into 5D. Unit 5D now extends further north and west than previously.
Commissioners said the new boundary line “better divides the more-developed urban areas surrounding Philadelphia and the less-developed areas farther from the city.”
As for disease management area permits, commissioners created them specifically for disease area 2 last fall. That’s the one spot in the state where chronic wasting disease has been found in the wild deer herd.
Biologists have recommended keeping the deer herd there stable to slow the spread of CWD.
Commissioners dramatically reduced the number of doe licenses to be available there last year, though. That prompted some real concern, if not anger, among staff, and a compromise.
Commissioners and staff created “disease management area permits,” which were special doe tags that could only be used within the area boundaries. They offered 13,000, to bring the allocation up to what biologists wanted.
The discovery of five more CWD-positive deer in disease management area 2 – one of them further south and west than ever before found – had commissioners just a few weeks ago thinking of doing away with disease permits.
As it is, 77 percent of Wildlife Management Unit 4A lies within the disease management area. Commissioners said they might just make the entire unit part of the disease area and increase the number of doe licenses to be available there.
Staff recommended keeping the disease management area permits, said Commissioner Tim Layton, and commissioners agreed. A total of 13,500 will be made available this fall.
They can be used throughout the disease area, including that part of Somerset County – added this year – where the disease has yet to show up, he said.
“We’re going to hold on and hope (CWD) doesn’t spread any further” in any direction, he said.