Tuesday, April 11, 2006

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: New statewide urban/suburban deer management plan released

State releases its first-ever urban/suburban deer plan

New tools could help control whitetails in populated areas.
By Christian Berg
Of The Allentown Morning Call

Responding to a growing public outcry over deer-vehicle collisions, Lyme disease and damaged crops and landscaping , the Pennsylvania Game Commission has released its first-ever plan to manage whitetails in urban and suburban areas.

A draft version of the plan, posted Monday on the agency's Web site, includes a wide range of new tools designed to control burgeoning deer populations in Pennsylvania's most populous communities. Among them are more liberal hunting regulations, longer hunting seasons and non-traditional methods such as professional sharpshooters, deer feeding bans and deer-management training seminars for mayors, police chiefs and other local officials.

''It's no secret why there is great difficulty managing urban/suburban deer populations,'' said Jeannine Tardiff, a commission deer biologist and the plan's author. ''A deer population inaccessible to hunters can quickly exceed the tolerance level of those in the community. The safety issues can become serious, and property damage severe.

''We believe the…plan provides a starting point from which the Game Commission can develop and implement a program that will help hunters, landowners and municipal officials achieve mutually acceptable goals of increasing hunting opportunities and greater control of the deer population in highly developed areas of the state.''

Overabundant deer are a growing problem in many urban and suburban areas across Pennsylvania, including portions of the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia suburbs and Poconos.

Large numbers of deer living in close proximity to large numbers of people has put Pennsylvania among the national leaders in the number of deer-related automobile accidents and new cases of Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks.

Last year, auto insurer State Farm released the results of a survey that ranked Pennsylvania No. 1 in the nation for deer-vehicle collisions. And statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pennsylvania indicate Pennsylvania has the second-highest Lyme disease infection rate in the nation.

Suburban deer have also proved a bane to farmers, nursery owners and landscapers. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau estimates that deer may cause upward of $90 million in agricultural damage annually.

''Some of our members are on the verge of going out of business, because they can't sustain the losses,'' said Chad Forcey, government relations director for the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association, which last week reported nurseries lose an average of $20,000 a year due to deer damage and deer control efforts.

Although the urban/suburban deer plan includes a range of hunting and non-hunting control options, the 11-page document makes it clear that hunting is the commission's preferred deer control tool.

''Where safe and appropriate, [hunting] will be used to manage deer populations in developed areas,'' the plan states. ''The Game Commission will support and encourage hunting as a means of managing deer populations by annually making hunting opportunities available, increasing hunting opportunities in developed areas and providing deer hunters with tools to increase their success.''

The commission has already expanded urban and suburban deer hunting opportunities in recent years by holding special antlerless deer seasons in the state's most populated regions — including parts of the Lehigh Valley — and offering generous allocations of antlerless deer licenses for those areas.

Now, the agency will consider extending hunting hours in populated areas and conducting an experimental baiting project to determine whether baiting can be used as an effective means to increase the deer harvest in selected areas.

Other hunting-related recommendations include:

Expanding the Deer Management Assistance Program to allow municipalities and other defined entities, such as community associations, to enroll. DMAP is a program that allocates additional antlerless deer licenses that can only be used on specific properties where deer damage is a problem.

Creating an Urban Deer Control Program that would allow hunters to kill deer outside regular hunting seasons, similar to what farmers are permitted to do now under the Red Tag program.

Developing a planning program to help communities organize and implement controlled hunts that direct a limited number of hunters into a defined area where deer numbers are too high.

Developing an urban deer-hunting guide to inform deer hunters about opportunities available in urban/suburban areas.

Developing an advanced deer-hunter education course for hunters who want to hunt in developed areas. Records of those who successfully complete the course could then be made available to private landowners and municipal officials who want to recruit hunters to remove deer in their area.

Ted Onufrak, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said he is generally pleased with the plan and supports its hunting-oriented focus.

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