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Hunting- Important changes are being made to the state's white-tailed deer management program that will improve the Pennsylvania Game Commission's ability to manage this popular and economically-important resource, agency staff announced this morning in a hearing before the state House Game and Fisheries Committee.

Responding to an invitation to brief legislators about the latest deer management program news and to answer related questions about deer and deer hunting, Game Commission Deputy Executive Director Mike Schmit, Wildlife Management Bureau Director Calvin DuBrock, and members of the agency's Deer Management Section, as well as Game Commissioners and executive staff appeared before the committee, chaired by Rep. Bruce Smith, R-York.

Schmit spoke to legislators about the importance of whitetails and their management to Pennsylvanians, particularly hunters, and noted that there is no shortage of ideas on how best to manage this resource.

"The dilemma wildlife management agencies face comes with the knowledge that the land can support a finite number of large herbivores, in this case, deer." Schmit said. "And to reduce deer to a level considered appropriate for sustained health of the plant communities that sustain them is difficult not only because deer have the decided advantage over the hunter, but also that the hunter's desire to see deer often places this interest in direct conflict with what is best for the resource.

"The Game Commission is proud of the cherished status and celebrated history of deer and deer hunting in our Commonwealth, and while we don't predict deer management to ever be non-controversial, we look forward to working with every person who cares about deer to enhance their relevance into the future."

In a presentation to the committee, Dr. Christopher Rosenberry, who recently was named as the new supervisor of the agency's Deer Management Section, said deer harvest numbers for the 2004-05 hunting seasons show a 12 percent decline in the overall harvest (13 percent for bucks and 12 percent for antlerless deer) from last year. Also, the percentage of button bucks taken in the state's most recent hunting seasons did not change.

"Despite a number of rumors pertaining to substantial kills of button bucks, the percentage of button bucks in the antlerless harvest was similar to previous years," Rosenberry said. "In a related development, the number of two-and-one-half-year-old bucks in the 2004 harvest climbed from 20 percent before antler restrictions to 50 percent."

Rosenberry also noted that the agency's Deer Management Section has seen considerable turnover in recent months. Three deer biologists have left; two retired and one took a job in another state. While Rosenberry will supervise the section and oversee population monitoring and the Deer Management Assistance Program, Bret Wallingford, a Game Commission deer biologist since 1990, remains in the section and will oversee the research program, harvest data collection and human dimensions work. Jeannine Tardiff, a biologist who joined the deer section in late 2004, will oversee citizen task force development and testing, chronic wasting disease monitoring and urban deer management.

"All three of us earned graduate degrees from North Carolina State University while conducting research on white-tailed deer," Rosenberry said. "From that common beginning, we have gained experience on nearly every aspect of deer management. We have conducted research; worked with hunters, farmers and suburban landowners; monitored deer populations; and administered statewide management assistance and disease surveillance programs."

During the Deer Management Section's transitional period, Rosenberry and Wallingford began to familiarize themselves with a new deer population model the agency had been using to accommodate antler restrictions that were implemented in 2002.

"There had been much discussion about deer population numbers, such as 1.6 million deer," Rosenberry said. "As part of the transition, we took a look at the deer model created in 2002, to understand its operation. During this review, we identified several parts of the model that could have been improved and would have resulted in more accurate population estimates.

"Whether there were 1.6 million deer in Pennsylvania, we cannot say. However, based on a new analysis of data available to us at this time, it appears deer populations in many Wildlife Management Units have declined."

Rosenberry explained that the Game Commission historically has managed deer using deer densities and deer density goals. That approach is changing in an effort to provide a more stable foundation for managing deer populations.

"Making a determination of whether deer populations are at healthy levels should not be judged on deer numbers alone, but also should involve an assessment of multiple factors related to deer herd health, habitat health and deer-human interactions," Rosenberry noted. "These measures should include hunter success, deer-human interactions, habitat inventories, as well as measurements of deer productivity and densities."

Rosenberry noted that the new deer management team will continue to evaluate the agency's deer program in an effort to identify what's working and what's not. Initiatives include piloting a localized Citizens Task Force project; developing an urban deer management strategy; continued use of research to improve deer management decisions; and development of a new deer population monitoring system.

"Chairman Smith, we've used this important meeting to share our findings and plans for the future, because we recognize that integrity and credibility are best measured in actions, not reactions," Schmit noted. "Many Pennsylvanians have been waiting for us to answer their concerns about fewer deer, and we will.

"Having said that, we must all recognize that Pennsylvania's deer program must move forward. We have concerns with various aspects of the most recent deer management model and have taken steps to correct them. But the program isn't broke and deer are still plentiful at a landscape level. And you can anticipate an agency response to deer population declines when we set antlerless allocations at the April 26th Commission meeting."

Source: PA Game Commision


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