2009-10-31 / Outdoors

PGC deer management has ‘scientific foundation’

Another deer-hunting season is nearing, triggering debate in coffee shops and sporting goods stores about the Pa. Game Commission’s deer management program.

After selling enough antlerless deer licenses to reduce the size of the whitetail population by upwards of 40 percent in some sections of northcentral Pennsylvania, the agency has in recent years been trying to maintain a stable herd.

PGC biologists and other personnel are analyzing deer health information using reproductive data. They’re also using new techniques to assess habitat conditions and determine how many deer can survive on available food sources in a given area.

“There has to be a solid scientifi c foundation,” said Dr. Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises deer management for the agency. “These new measures provide a clearer picture to manage for healthy deer, healthy forest habitat and reduced deer-human confl icts.”

Conflicts could be anything from overbrowsing on farmland and forest tracts to damage caused by deer/vehicle collisions.

Cal DuBrock, the PGC’s wildlife management director, acknowledged the agency’s delicate balancing act. “Managing whitetails has always been controversial because the views of those trying to influence deer management are so different,” he noted.

Establishing socially acceptable deer population goals puts the Game Commission in the crosshairs of every interest group, DuBrock added.

“There is always one group of stakeholders that wants what another doesn’t, creating extremes that cannot, or refuse to, find middle ground . . . With the new measures of deer and forested habitat health, we are positioned to further refine our approach.”

“Reproduction is the best measure of deer health because there are differences in the reproductive rates of females in good physical condition and those in poor physical condition,” Dr. Rosenberry explained. “As a deer population’s size increases, its reproductive rates decline. In fact, female fawns often stop breeding when deer populations are high.”

The second phase of the new approach is to more closely monitor forest habitat conditions.

“One way to assess a forest’s well-being is to measure its ability to replace itself,” Rosenberry said. “In other words, are there enough young trees in a forest to replace older trees when they die, are harvested for timber, or are damaged by natural causes?”

The new management formula has the endorsement of biologists, professional foresters and other experts from state and national agencies and educational institutions.

A few years ago, the Game Commission contracted for aerial surveys of many remote sections of the region, where infrared technology provided a better picture of how many deer are in the woods. PGC has also captured and examined thousands of deer in recent years to gather more biological data and measure the impact of its management practices.

With fewer deer in the woods, forest regeneration is improving, according to DuBrock. He added that a healthy, regenerating forest means a healthy deer herd.

“By decreasing the deer herd, we believe that overbrowsed habitat will recover so that these areas can one day sustain higher numbers of deer and other species,” he said.

In the meantime, DuBrock has asked hunters and tourist-based businesses to be patient and recognize that the sacrifices will lead to a healthier and more plentiful deer herd in future years.

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