Thursday, March 08, 2007

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: House Bill 550 Allows Farmers to Contract Deer Hunters

Religion and politics. Two subjects people say you should never bring up in conversation.
You can add another to that list: deer.

We’ll never argue that deer aren’t beautiful animals. But so are lions and tigers and bears.
In Chester County, there are probably a bunch of bears, no lions or tigers — but there are certainly plenty of deer. And the fact is that these herds and herds of deer are destroying property and crops.

State Rep. Art Hershey, R-13th, of Cochranville, is trying to help the situation with proposed legislation.

Orchard growers and other farmers in the state will get some help in their fight to control crop losses from deer if the new law proposed by Hershey is passed.

Hershey’s legislation, known as House Bill 550, was unveiled Feb. 26. A key provision is that it would allow farmers to hire a contractor to kill deer on their property.

The bill is going to be introduced to the Legislature in the coming weeks. Another aspect of the pending bill is that it would expand the list of agricultural products that farmers can farm to be eligible for killing deer for crop damage.

Under current law, farmers who grow cultivated crops, fruit trees, vegetables, and raise live stock, poultry and maintain beehives can cull deer herds on their property if they have sustained crop losses.

And local farms say the damage from deer is real.

“We lose up to one-third of our apple crop every year due to the deer problem,” said Karen Vollmecke, of Vollmecke Orchards in West Brandywine.

At W.D. Wells & Associates Inc. in West Grove, President Bill Wells said that the company has sustained $190,000 in lost income due to crop losses from deer between his landscaping business and his nursery, Watercrest Farms.

“We suffer greatly,” said Wells. Aside from the loss of plants at the nursery, there is the loss of landscaping customers. “Many residents are so fed up with their shrubbery being eaten, that they say, ‘We’re not going to invest in landscaping anymore.’” An added expense at the nursery is trying to protect trees by putting plant covers around them, which only works on single-trunk trees. “We protect 5,000 trees a year.”

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, farmers do not need a special permit to shoot deer but they must contact their local wildlife conservation officer and follow all the rules.

Farmers have to abide by the safety zone law, which says that they cannot shoot within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling. The current law only allows farmers or the employee of a farm to shoot deer.

Wells said that over the years he has had employees who were recreational hunters and were able to shoot a few deer but, “the idea of being able to hire someone to do it is very attractive.”
Vollmecke said she hoped the new law would allow farmers to use contractors who would hunt with a bow and arrow. The safety zone is reduced to 50 yards from a dwelling unit for bow and arrow hunters. For farmers like Vollmecke who are surrounded by subdivisions, archers could be more successful.

Jason Decoskey, chief of technical services of the Bureau of Wildlife Protection of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that there is a severe deer problem in areas such as Chester County due to the “urban/suburban” interface.
For Stuart Constable, production manager of Highland Orchards in West Bradford, the orchard is at ground zero when it comes to the urban/suburban interface. “It’s really been bad the last four to five years.”

We think the deer problem in the counties surrounding Philadelphia is out of control. And we insist that every safety precaution is taken if the deer population is to be thinned.

Something needs to be done. Hershey’s bill is a start.


No comments: