By John Eveland

October 27, 2014

As has been described in previous Deer Management Series articles, politics, and not science, was the motivation behind the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deer-reduction program. The benefits for the forest ecosystem, for deer health, and for nongame birds and mammals have been few to nonexistent, while the costs to sportsmen, society, and the Commonwealth's economy have been exorbitant. The deer-reduction program has been, and remains, in violation of Pennsylvania state law. A new, remedial, deer-management plan was prepared for PGC's Board of Commissioners in an attempt for PGC to resolve the crisis internally. However, it was rejected. Secondly, the State Legislature attempted to resolve the crisis by passing five new deer-management bills. This attempt was, also, stonewalled. Therefore, a third attempt at a permanent solution represents, in the viewpoint of the author, the only real, comprehensive, and permanent solution to end the deer-reduction debacle and prevent its return in the future. This two-stage plan is, herein, presented.

Stage 1: The Need for Legislation. The five bills that were introduced for passage during the 2014 legislative session – House Bills 870, 1370, 1724, 1146, and 1726 – need to be reintroduced, and passed. The first four of these bills are designed to address social and economic problems caused by the deer-reduction program, while one bill (HB1726/SB1086) is designed to influence deer numbers. HB1726 consists of two parts. First, the bill would legislate the "maximum sustained yield (MSY)" method of deer management (Section 322(c)(14)). It is intended to return PGC's deer-management program to the science-based condition that existed for decades prior to deer reduction in 2001 -- a practice that resulted in Pennsylvania being one of the top deer-hunting states in the nation. The second fundamental portion of the bill (Section 322(c)(15)), would direct PGC to implement new habitat enhancements across the state's system of public lands that would improve deer management to an even better condition than had existed for decades prior to herd reduction – without impairment to forest health and timber productivity, and while improving the ecosystem for both game and nongame species. HB1726 is designed to serve the interests of foresters, environmentalists, sportsmen, and the public. However, two very practical problems stand as obstacles toward passage of this MSY/Habitat Enhancement Bill along with the other four deer-related bills: it has been stated that the General Assembly will not pass five separate but related bills within a session; and, secondly, PGC has stated in a legislative hearing that, if passed, the agency will not adhere to the precepts of the MSY bill (that sportsmen should be careful what they wish for in that PGC would apply MSY standards that would further reduce the herd below current conditions). In order to address the first problem, it is proposed that all five bills be combined into one comprehensive bill – a deer management accountability bill.

Stage 2: Legislative Oversight. In order to guarantee that PGC adheres to the MSY/Habitat Enhancement Bill, it becomes the duty of the Joint House and Senate to oversee compliance by PGC. However, this represents a daunting task for the Joint Legislature, in that PGC has breached its trust to honorably adhere to its state law mission, and the Joint Legislature lacks the scientific oversight expertise to recognize deceptions. Toward this end, it is necessary that an independent, scientific advisory service is established to annually conduct the essential forest health and carrying capacity research, to assess deer population densities, to calculate the number of deer that need to be harvested in order to maintain forest health and a maximum sustained yield of deer, and to determine the number of antlerless allocations that are needed in order to achieve this science-based MSY harvest. Toward achieving this goal, scientific MSY standards have already been established, as well as a state-of-the-art habitat enhancement plan. Such a Deer Management Advisory Service would annually provide the Joint Legislature, Office of the Governor, PGC's Board of Commissions, sportsmen, and the public with the necessary data and recommendations to assure scientific oversight of the agency and PGC compliance with its chartered mission and Title 34 State Law.

A permanent solution requires passage of five deer bills, and creation of an independent advisory service.






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