Why the Game Commission and DCNR Nearly Collapsed
Pennsylvania’s Deer Herd, and the Impacts to Sport Hunting,
Wildlife Populations, and the Commonwealth’s Economy
The Need to Pass HB for Deer Management, Wildlife Habitat,
and Game Commission Accountability.
In 1998, DCNR entered into an agreement with the Forest Stewardship Council – a German-based environmental organization that was partnered with the International Rainforest Alliance – in which DCNR would pay FSC an annual fee, and in return FSC would grant DCNR an annual Green Certification Award. According to this mutually-beneficial scheme, the annual Green Certification Award would give environmentally-minded retail and wholesale customers the impression that lumber from DCNR’s state forests was superior to other sources of wood products, and, therefore, domestic and international sales of DCNR lumber would increase into a windfall of revenue for the agency. There was, of course, no difference between oak and cherry trees that were grown on DCNR’s state forests over the past 80-125 years and trees grown on Farmer Brown’s woodlot. Unfortunately for Farmer Brown and other small lumber operators, it would now be more difficult to compete with DCNR. Two men were involved: FSC’s regional representative (a Pennsylvania resident who also operated a deer-culling business in Pennsylvania), and DCNR’s chief of forestry. This information was brought to light in a 2011 Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LB&FC) investigation of the costs versus the benefits of DCNR’s green certification award.
Not wanting to lose this opportunity to advance their environmental agenda – that deer were the cause of all maladies that affect the forest and all wildlife that reside in Penn’s Woods – the two conspired with a third man (PGC’s chief of wildlife research and management, who was, himself, not a hunter) to permanently reduce deer and nearly purge forests of our State Mammal throughout Pennsylvania and especially in some northern-tier and eastern regions. The trio, therefore, included a provision in the DCNR/FSC green certification agreement that the Game Commission would need to comply with herd reduction in order for DCNR to be granted the annual award. While in reality this was not the case but simply a ruse by the three men, the trio succeeded in convincing the governor, who adjusted the Commission’s board of game commissioners and executive staff toward achieving herd reduction.
Therefore, herd reduction was initiated for two reasons:
- For money - to generate revenue for two fringe-environmental organizations (the Forest Stewardship Council and the International Rainforest Alliance) and for DCNR; and
- For Agenda - to achieve the dream of three men that forest seedling regeneration, wildflowers, and nongame birds and mammals would proliferate into a projected “Garden of Eden” in the absence of deer.
However, this scheme soon proved to be a socioeconomic disaster for the state. A 2012 report by the Pennsylvania Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LB&FC) and further LB&FC computations in January 2017 indicated that as of 2011 the annual DCNR gain in revenue from the green-certification/deer-reduction scheme was about $1.2 million per year, while the cost to Commonwealth economic activity – primarily to family businesses and rural communities – was a minimum of $501.6 million per year. According to the report, about 120,000 sportsmen had stopped buying hunting licenses as of 2011. It is estimated that at least an additional 200,000 hunters might still be buying hunting licenses out of a spirit of tradition, but are failing to go afield because of the lack of deer. The recruitment of youth hunters is too low to replace the loss of adult hunters. The loss of hunters over the past 16 years could be resulting in a total impact to the Commonwealth’s economy of $1.6 billion per year.
In 2017, the LB&FC further calculated that a minimum of $40 million in annual tax revenue is being lost as a result of the deer-reduction program -- $25 million in lost state tax revenue and $15 million lost annually in local taxes. Tax losses could now have reached $129 million per year -- $81 million in lost state tax revenue and $48 million in lost local taxes.
In 2015, another LB&FC study determined that the Game Commission had failed to achieve its five-year forest seedling-regeneration goal, stating in the repot that no significant tree-seedling regeneration had occurred in any of the Commission’s 22 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). In addition, two deer embryo-count studies over a nine-year period discovered that PGC’s claim that deer reduction was necessary toward improving deer health was also false, in that deer had never been in poor health in any of the state’s 22 WMU’s, and, in fact, were in good to excellent health in every instance. Furthermore, PGC’s policies had failed to generate any improvements to other game and nongame populations after 16 years of herd reduction. Therefore, no scientific benefits have resulted from the deer reduction program.
It should be understood that over a five-year period from 2001-06, the Commission killed over 2,500,000 deer from a statewide population in 2000 of 1,500,000 deer. PGC killed an additional 500,000 does and fawns over the average 380,000 annual deer harvest – resulting in a kill of about a half million deer per year. Considering that this onslaught of our State Mammal represented a reduction of about 500,000 deer (primarily breeding does) out of a total population of 1.5 million, the reduction proved to be more than the herd could endure in the face of growing predation by coyotes (which could now be killing 50% of newborn fawns as per studies in surrounding states), high and excessive annual allocations of antlerless hunting license allocations, and the yearly issuance of DMAP doe permits for DCNR. In 2008, the board of commissioners stated in private conversation that they had overshot the herd to only 1-2 deer per square mile in some regions from their planned target of only 5-6 deer per square mile – representing a collapsed herd in some regions that could not recover in the near future. In order to continue the assault, PGC replaced Gary Alt with a three-member deer team comprised of three North Carolina State University students who had each received their training on a 5-square-mile agricultural demonstration area on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called Chesapeake Farms. There, they were trained not as conventional wildlife biologists who view deer as a valuable natural resource, but, instead, in methods to reduce potential impacts of deer on agriculture. PGC’s chief of wildlife management (who was one of the three original green-certification/deer-reduction architects) hired these three people as PGC’s three-member deer team – not to promote responsible deer and habitat management, but to expand their deer-reduction training from the 5-square-mile Chesapeake Farms agricultural demonstration area to a statewide level in Pennsylvania. Therefore, the Commission’s three-member deer team was not hired to serve the interests of sportsmen, the Commission’s Title 34 mission, the $5 billion outdoor industry and rural economies, or the general citizenry of Pennsylvania. They were hired simply to permanently reduce the Commonwealth’s deer herd.
In conclusion, there have been no benefits from the Game Commission’s deer-reduction program – not for science, sportsmen, society, rural communities, nor the Commonwealth’s economy.
Passage of Rep. Dave Maloney’s wildlife habitat bill (HB ) will responsibly and scientifically resolve the great ecological and socioeconomic impacts that have been caused by the Game Commission over the past 16 years, assist the agency in achieving its Title 34 mission, and provide the legislature with the scientific advisory services and recommendations that are needed in order to responsibly oversee the Commission and hold the agency accountable to sportsmen and the citizens of the Commonwealth.
John Eveland • March 28, 2017 • 412.601.0077 • email@example.com