PGC Again Defiant to Sportsmen Pleas for More Deer

By John Eveland

April 11, 2015

Once again the Pennsylvania Game Commission demonstrated its defiance toward resolving the state's deer-management crisis. This year PGC took their stubbornness to a new and higher level, and not only defied sportsmen, but legislators as well. To explain, last year five deer-management bills had been written in an effort to legislatively resolve the issue. However, it was said that in private meetings PGC commissioners requested legislative and senate chairmen to stand-down on introducing the bills to the chamber floors for passage – promising that the board of commissioners would resolve the issue internally within the PGC.

As a result, the bills were not introduced for a vote, and died in November of last year at the end of the legislative session. Having stalled passage of the bills, PGC's promise was quickly broken when at their April 10 meeting the board of commissioners and deer-management staff announced their version of a PGC resolution plan. Permit me to assess PGC's broken promise and success at maintaining herd reduction and the status quo.

For the upcoming 2015-16 hunting season, PGC announced that they will allocate 746,500 doe licenses. That's 33,000 fewer than the previous year. This represents a 4% reduction in overall allocations. However, 25,000 of the overall 33,000 reductions stem from an adjustment to the size and number of allocations to WMU 5C outside of Philadelphia. Therefore, in actuality there was only an 8,000 reduction in allocations for the remainder of the state. This amounts to a 1% reduction in doe allocations for 2015. Even if we consider an increase of 6,000 doe tags in Philadelphia's WMU 5D, that still leaves only a net decrease of 14,000 tags over the remainder of the state from last year's 779,500 doe allocations – and still only a 1% reduction in tags.

It appears that PGC holds the same respect for the State House and Senate as it does for sportsmen. Welcome to the club! Here's a quick breakdown on the board of commissioner's version of an internal PGC deer resolution plan, and their answer to a promise made to the house and senate.

* In the northcentral big woods region (WMUs 2G, 2H, and 3A), PGC increased the number of doe permits by 2,000-- from 45,500 in 2014 to 47,500 this year. This action represents an unconscionable insult to sportsmen. In an area that has been devastated with such low numbers of deer that family outdoor businesses have gone bankrupt and closed, many hunters have abandoned the region, and camps can't even be sold for the lack of buyers, PGC has added 2,000 more doe permits when, instead, a complete cessation of allocations should be the social, economic, and scientific answer. This is not surprising considering that this is the epicenter of Pennsylvania's timber industry and the close relationship between timber lobbyists and the board.

• The defiance toward sportsmen appears to be as great in central forests (2E, 4D, and 4E) where doe allocations were increased by 4,000 – from 75,000 in 2014 to 79,000 for this coming year. Union and Snyder County sportsmen held a meeting in Mifflinburg on March 22 that was attended by about a hundred sportsmen and two PGC commissioners. The meeting was extensively covered in the pages of Pennsylvania Outdoor News – describing the pleas of sportsmen to return deer to their area. One hunter said that members of their camp yearly see more bear than deer when afield, and another said that he has seen a total of two deer during the past six years. President Putnam promised that "we will work on this."

• Southcentral allocations (4A, 4B, and 5A) increased by 2,000 – from 73,000 to 75,000 this year.

• In northeastern WMUs (3B, 3C, 3D, and 4C), doe allocations actually declined by 1,000 – from 115,000 in 2014 to 114,000 for this coming year. That's less than a 1% (actually 0.8%) decrease for an area where a few year's ago a PGC staffer bragged in a private conversation, "We've literally exterminated deer in some areas, and still regeneration hasn't returned."

• The northwest (1A, 1B, and 2F) will experience a 7,000-tag reduction of doe permits – from 104,000 to 97,000 this year.

• Pittsburgh and surrounding WMUs (2B, 2A, 2C, and 2D) will see a decline of 15,000 permits – from 205,000 in 2014 to 190,000 this year. If we combine Pittsburgh and Philadelphia WMUs, then there is no net reduction in antlerless allocations throughout the remainder of the state.

As an insight into PGC's mindset regarding their ultimate goal for deer densities in Pennsylvania (which in itself demonstrates the incomprehensible level of incompetence at dealing with a crisis of such magnitude and impact to the Commonwealth), on April 10 Bob Frye (outdoor writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) published an article entitled "Debate over deer numbers goes on." The subheading read, "Game Commission still searching for ideal density per square mile." In the article, a forester with Collins Pine (timer company) indicated that deer have been brought back on their land "to 15-20 deer per square mile." He said, "We think that's a very good level."

"That's what the commission wants everywhere, board president Dave Putnam of Centre County said. We're searching for the magic number as well, he said."

"Commissioner Brian Hoover hinted...that when deer densities drop to 15 per square mile, hunters complain. That changes when populations climb to 20-25 per square mile, he added."

Permit me to scientifically assess a deer density of 20 deer per square mile – what foresters are recommending and commissioners are hinting. According to deer biology and population dynamics, if PGC managed the herd for 20 deer per square mile (dpsm) on every square mile of forested land in the state, then the population would be a total of 531,020 deer. If there were no predation (no coyotes) in the state, in order to maintain a stable population at 20 dpsm we could only harvest 132,755 deer per year. However, in the real world there are coyotes, and so the number of deer that could be harvested in order to maintain a density of 20 dpsm and a population of 531,020 deer on all forest lands in Pennsylvania is
88,108 deer per year.

Therefore, PGC has been claiming that it's harvesting about as many deer now (since drastic herd reduction began in 2000) as it had harvested in the heydays of deer hunting in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. In the last two years, PGC has estimated that they harvested 352,920 deer in 2013 and 303,973 in 2014. Now they wish to INCREASE the population to 20 dpsm, which would result in a scientifically determined harvest of 88,108. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? There would need to be a population of 1,834,847 deer (69 dpsm) in order to harvest 303,973 deer, and PGC wishes to increase deer density to 20 dpsm to make hunters happy. This is almost beyond incompetence -- it's simply insane!

Please excuse the editorializing by the author, but after witnessing 14 years of agenda-driven ineptitude, and considering the great and lasting harm that PGC has wrought on sportsmen, the resource, and the Commonwealth, frustration increases and patience wanes. It is high time that the legislature addresses a statewide crisis and national embarrassment for which PGC is unable and unwilling to correct.






©2011 • Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania