DEER MANAGEMENT SERIES, NO. 4: A PERFECT STORM
PGC and DCNR Designed a Doomsday

Scenario to Virtually Exterminate Deer

By John Eveland

May 31, 2014

From 2000-04, PGC engaged in a relentless assault on does and fawns. Three deer-reduction mechanisms were deployed: (1) extremely high antlerless license allocations, (2) predation, and (3) antler restrictions.

The Impact of High Antlerless License Allocations. From 2000-04, antlerless licenses were issued at levels far exceeding impacts expected by sportsmen and legislators. Although members of PGC's Board of Commissioners privately stated a target goal of only 5-6 deer per square mile (dpsm), PGC admitted to have overshot this targeted number to only 1-2 dpsm in some areas. PGC privately stated, "We've literally exterminated deer in some areas and still regeneration hasn't changed." From 2000-04, nearly a half million deer per year were reportedly harvested. Of this total, an average of 308,758 per year were does and fawns. Therefore, PGC claimed to have harvested about the same number of does and fawns per year from 2000-04 as the total number of deer annually harvested before and after this reduction period.

The High Impact of Predation. A PGC/Penn State study in 2000-01 indicated that 22.5% of the total fawn crop succumbed to predation – about evenly by bears and coyotes and a few to bobcats. For decades the bear population has remained relatively stable at 20-25 thousand bears, and it appears that prior to 2000 the deer population had been able to cope with the roughly 10% fawn loss attributed to bears. However, it is estimated that the coyote population has rapidly increased to as many as 250,000. The increasing impact by coyotes has likely exceeded the reproductive capacity of the herd to grow and possibly even to remain stable. Other studies indicate that coyote predation throughout the East currently accounts for 50% of fawns, while in the Southeast coyotes inflict a 75% early impact on fawns. The Southeast study concluded that when combined with doe hunting, deer populations are unable to sustain themselves in the face of such heavy coyote predation. A 12-year Quality Deer Management Association study confirmed that fawn predation in northern–tier Pennsylvania has increased from 25% over a decade ago to as high as 50-75% today. In contrast to Southeast biologists who recognize the seriousness of the situation, the leader of a proposed $3.9 million PGC/Penn State predation study responded, "Only an average of one in two (fawns) survives its first three months of life. Regardless, this number of fawns that survive generally is adequate to sustain nearly all populations." The accuracy of this statement, however, is questionable.

The Impact of Antler Restrictions. During Gary Alt's statewide tour to convince sportsmen that the deer-reduction program would be temporary and limited, PGC used the prospect of larger-antlered buck as an incentive (a "carrot") to entice sportsmen to accept reduction. However, a DCNR report revealed a more sinister reason for the antler-restriction policy: "Increased restriction for antlered bucks made it harder to harvest a buck so hunters were more apt to harvest an antlerless deer instead." Additionally, in decades prior to the herd-reduction program (under the traditional, scientific "maximum-sustained-yield" method of deer management) about 90% of the over winter herd consisted of does and fawns – thus maximizing the herd's growth potential. However, under the new antler-restriction policy, up to 40% of the over winter population is designed to consist of adult buck, thus decreasing the productivity of the herd.

Conclusion. Along with predation, antler restrictions represent a biological "insurance policy" for PGC to prevent herd growth and maintain low deer population levels even if their own Board or the Legislature would mandate lowering the number of antlerless hunting permits. If PGC biologists have been aware of the extraordinarily high impact of combined hunting, predation, and antler restrictions over the past 14 years, then they are guilty of selective ignorance and deceit in not informing their own Board of Commissioners, sportsmen, and legislators, and for permitting the relentless assault to occur. If PGC biologists were unaware of this "Perfect Storm", then they are just as guilty of incompetence.

 

 

 

 

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