Legislation aiming to reverse deer debate

Harrisburg — Is it an end run-style attempt to replace the Pennsylvania Game Commission with another entity more attentive to one particular group of hunters? Or a legitimate  attempt to better serve sportsmen and rural economies?

There are people on both sides of House Bill 2083.

The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Dave Maloney, a Berks County Republican. It is, he wrote in a memo to other lawmakers, designed to “improve wildlife management and recreational hunting in this commonwealth.”

He added it “aims to address the concerns raised by parties who have been involved in the game management issue, including sportsmen, foresters, environmentalists, camp owners, as well as outdoor-related family business owners.”

Upon further inspection, though, the bill is largely – if not completely – about deer.

Specifically, it recommends creating a new Independent Forest and Wildlife Advisory Council that would, with the assistance of an independent contractor, to be known as the Forest and Wildlife Advisory Service, essentially tell the Game Commission how to manage whitetails.

The council would, among other things, “allow us to return to traditional separate buck and doe seasons and a maximum sustained yield method of deer management,” Maloney wrote.

The doe season, according to Maloney’s bill, could be no longer than three days and could not be held before the end of the two-week firearms deer season.

Doe license allocations would be set on a county basis. And it would be the job of the council – and not the commission – to decide how many doe tags to issue in any given license year.

The bill also calls for a system whereby there’s “ample game” and “adequate opportunity to hunt and trap,” too. It recommends a system of maximum sustained yield of deer and other wildlife, meaning the maximum the ecosystem can support.

It also calls for the council’s contracted adviser to “design a habitat enhancement program that benefits deer and other forest-dwelling game and nongame species of wildlife and that serves the interests of sportsmen for recreational hunting, state camp lessee interests, the outdoor recreation interests of the general public and the economic interests of rural communities and the outdoor industry.”

The commission and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would have to implement the program on state game lands and forests, presumably using existing funds. The bill makes no mention of providing additional money to carry out the work.

Finally, it would allow senior license holders to shoot any buck so long as it had spike antlers, and would prohibit any public land – such as state forest and park land – from being enrolled in the deer management assistance program.

Who would make up this council?

It would be chaired by “a representative of a Pennsylvania-based organization whose primary mission is to serve the grassroots sportsmen of this commonwealth.” That person would be appointed by the governor.

Also on the council, appointed by Harrisburg politicians, would be:

– “A representative of an organization located in a county of the second class whose primary mission is to serve sportsmen;

– “A representative of a Pennsylvania-based, nonpartisan organization whose primary mission is to provide Pennsylvania gun owners and outdoors enthusiasts with the information necessary to understand individual rights under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution;

– “A representative of an organization serving and dedicated to preserving individual rights of gun owners under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution in counties of the second class A, third class, fourth class and sixth class;

– “A representative of a Pennsylvania-based organization whose primary mission is to protect the rights of state forest leased campsite owners and associates in this commonwealth; and two additional at-large members appointed by the chairman “with recognized expertise, knowledge and experience in a relevant field.”

The members would serve as volunteers.

The council’s adviser would be paid and appointed within 60 days.

The proposals seem to match  the positions of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. For its part, that group is urging members to contact their legislators and support Bill 2083.

“It is very important legislation that will greatly benefit deer and wildlife resources, sportsmen and deer hunting, Pennsylvania’s economy, and the outdoor-loving citizens of the state,” reads its website.

A story there goes on to list 10 reasons why the bill should be approved.

The group suggests the bill will, among other things, boost wildlife health and management; deer health and management that’s been negatively impacted since the Game Commission began an assault on deer “on the whim of three men;” increase accountability of the commission; support sportsmen and the second amendment; and support “outdoor-loving citizens and recreation.”

Economics are another reason for supporting the bill, Unified said.

“Full implementation of HB 2083 will regenerate hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars in jobs and small businesses that rely on ample deer, abundant wildlife populations, and healthy forests. The bill will create many thousands of new jobs and stimulate the development of new business opportunities in the forest industry, tourism, and outdoor recreation,” its website said.

Others see the bill as a blatant attempt to get what some hunters want – but have been unable to achieve – by working within the current wildlife management system.

Kip Adams, director of outreach and education for the Quality Deer Management Association, recently sent out an email blast to members asking them to contact their lawmakers in opposition to the bill. He said it would have “tremendous negative repercussions for hunting and wildlife management in our state.”

“In a nutshell, this bill would create an advisory council of political appointees to dictate policy to the Game Commission; dictate seasons, bag limits and hunting regulations; force the use of an unproven and highly controversial wildlife management concept referred to as “maximum sustained yield”; and more. The QDMA opposes this legislation, and I hope you will too,” Adams wrote.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs is also opposing the bill and suggesting its members speak up to do the same.

“Regardless of your personal opinions on the current deer management program, this is a very bad precedent to allow the legislature to mandate wildlife management and season and bag limit decisions based on politics and emotion,” reads a note it sent to members.

The bill was referred to the state government committee – and not the House game and fisheries committee, perhaps, some have suggested, because it has no support there – on June 22. It’s not moved since.

Maloney certainly hopes to see it get some traction, though, based on what he wrote in his memo.

“Hunting is an activity that is valued and enjoyed by numerous Pennsylvanians,” Maloney wrote in his memo.

He goes on to say, however, that “without sufficient oversight and accountability: the state will experience the “loss of sportsmen and family businesses throughout our rural communities.”

Categories: Hunting News, Whitetail Deer

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