DEER MANAGEMENT SERIES, NO. 10: DESTROYING A TRADITION
By the Numbers – How PGC Decimated Pennsylvania's State Mammals

By John Eveland

August 19 , 2014

Prior to Herd Reduction. During the 14-year period from 1986-99, the average deer harvest was estimated to be 379,137 deer per year. The statewide population was estimated to be 1.5 million deer. This number is consistent with the author's calculations, and accurately represents the size of the statewide herd that would have needed to exist in order to sustain this average annual harvest. As a result, Pennsylvania held the reputation as one of the top deer-hunting states in the nation.

The Intensive Deer-Reduction Period. This national reputation, however, abruptly changed in 2000 when PGC began a five-year campaign to dramatically and permanently reduce the size of the Commonwealth's deer herd. To facilitate herd reduction, PGC switched from the decades-old, science-based method of deer management called "maximum sustained yield" (that was designed to serve the interest of sportsmen), and adopted a value-laden, subjective method called "ecosystem management" (that was designed to favor foresters and environmentalists). This new non-scientific method assumed an emotional and unsubstantiated belief that if deer impacts were removed from the forest ecosystem, that forest health, deer health, and the health of nongame species of small mammals, songbirds, and wildflowers (referred to as "biodiversity") would flourish. Therefore, PGC's deer team had arbitrarily discarded the agency's legislated mission "to serve the interest of sportsmen for recreational hunting", and had adopted at their personal discretion a new agency policy -- representing a gross and deliberate violation of Title 34 state law.

From 2000-04, the average annual harvest had increased to 476,471 deer per year (eclipsing 500,000 in two separate years). PGC had accomplished this rapid herd reduction by combining the separate buck and doe seasons into a single concurrent season, and by increasing antlerless-license allocations. Thus, the harvest of pregnant does and fawns was increased by nearly 100,000 per year—an average annual antlerless harvest of 308,758 as compared to 212,418 per year from 1986-99. PGC's Board commented that in some northern-tier areas, PGC had "overshot" its target goal of 5-6 deer per square mile, and had reduced the herd to 1-2 dpsm. This represented a virtual biological collapse of the herd in these areas and a nearly unhuntable condition.

Maintaining Herd Reduction. From 2005-13, PGC claims that an average of 336,918 deer have been harvested per year. Under the newly-adopted "ecosystem management" method, PGC's goal has been to continue herd reduction to a point where forest health, deer health, and biodiversity improve. According to the premise, when an undetermined number of Indian cucumber roots, Canada mayflowers, and trilliums appear in the forest, then further reduction should be halted and the herd stabilized at that point. It should be noted that after-the-fact studies have since indicated that herd reduction had proceeded under a false premise – that neither the forest, deer, nor other nongame species were in poor health. In fact, after 14 years of drastic herd reduction no significant changes have occurred to forest health, deer health, nor biodiverstiy.

Conclusion. Consider the following: (1) that an estimated average of 476,471 deer per year were harvested from 2000-04 in order to drastically reduce the statewide deer population; (2) that PGC admitted to having over-harvested some north central areas to as low as only 1-2 dpsm; and (3) that a member of PGC's deer team stated, "We've literally exterminated deer in some areas, and still regeneration hasn't changed." Then it is highly unlikely, and virtually impossible, that PGC's claimed average annual harvest of 336,918 deer per year from 2005-13 is accurate. As such, PGC is claiming that as many deer are now being harvested as had been harvested during the heydays of deer hunting during the 1980s and '90s. Considering the increasing impact of predation, such a high harvest would require a statewide population of 1.7 million deer –representing an average of 66 dpsm on all forestlands in the state, and 39 dpsm on every square mile of land area in the state. It is left to the reader to decide if PGC's false claims are due to incompetence or deception.


 

 

 

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