Thursday, April 05, 2007

PENNSYLVANIA: Audubon Society Weighs in on Deer Population

The over-browsing of Pennsylvania's forests and agricultural areas by too many deer in too many places has eliminated thousands of acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife, and represents the largest single threat to bird habitat, after urban sprawl, according to Timothy D. Schaeffer, Ph.D., Executive Director of Audubon Pennsylvania, the state office of the National Audubon Society.

Dr. Schaeffer made the comments before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee at a listening session on rural and agricultural issues in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

"The impact of deer on our forest ecosystem, the crop and forest
products losses, the loss of life and property from deer/car collisions and
the impact on public health from the incidence of Lyme disease carried by
deer have all been documented and the picture painted by these numbers is
not good," said Dr. Schaeffer.

A study released in March by the Department of Conservation and Natural
Resources showed fewer than 25 percent of the 41,650 forest plots they
looked at across the state showed desirable forest regeneration and almost
45 percent lacked any new, woody growth.

"Here in the Lebanon area -- the Conrad Weiser Forest District -- the
results are even worse," Dr. Schaeffer explained. "59 percent of the 1,126
forest plots surveyed showed no forest regeneration and 28 percent showed
regeneration with undesirable species."

The DCNR study and a 2005 study by Audubon Pennsylvania and the
Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance show that high deer populations have greatly
altered forest understories. The abundance of native wildflowers and other
forest-floor plants has been greatly diminished, shrub species have been
dramatically decreased or eliminated, and the variety of tree species has

From a bird and wildlife resource perspective, nearly every one of
Audubon's 84 Important Bird Areas in Pennsylvania has experienced
significant damage caused by deer over-browsing, reducing much-needed
habitat areas. These are areas of habitat critical to the survival and
diversity of bird populations that must meet dozens of science-based
criteria for designation.

"In addition to habitat losses, there is an estimated $90 million in
agricultural crop loss and $73 million in damage to our forest products
every year caused by deer, according to the Department of Agriculture,"
said Dr. Schaeffer. "Nurseries are losing an average of $20,000 a year due
to deer damage, and state taxpayers lose $18 million a year in deferred and
lost timber stumpage sales."

In addition, a 2006 hearing by the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs
Committee found --

-- Over $78 million in property damage occur in the over 39,000 deer/car
collisions each year in Pennsylvania, not counting the deaths and
injuries to the people involved, the highest of any state in the
nation; and

-- The incidence of Lyme disease, a debilitating and sometimes fatal
illness spread by deer ticks, has increased by over 9,000 percent
between 1987 and 2004, according to the Department of Health.

"Hunters will never agree on how many deer there should be in the
woods, and deer certainly don't go where hunters want them to; they go
where there's food and cover," said Dr. Schaeffer. "Deer are having a
devastating impact on forest ecosystems and many agricultural areas, and we
need to continue common sense policies to stem these losses."

Audubon Pennsylvania made several recommendations to the Committee --

-- The first priority should be the restoration and maintenance of fully
functional forest ecosystems, containing a full component of native
biological diversity at all levels. It is the best way to serve the
long-term interests of the people and wildlife of Pennsylvania.

-- Policy-makers and land managers should focus on the indicators of
forest health -- rather than the number of deer people are seeing -- to
assess whether our forests are recovering.

-- Until data shows Pennsylvania's forests are recovering, it would be
imprudent and irresponsible to further limit hunter effectiveness
through restrictions on hunting such as shorter seasons and smaller
antlerless allocations.

-- Support House Bill 550, sponsored by Rep. Hershey (R-Chester) and Rep.
Tom Caltagirone (D-Berks), allowing the owners of farms, forestland and
landscape nurseries to better protect agricultural commodities from the
damage caused by deer and other wildlife and would make it easier for
landowners, local governments and communities to obtain deer removal
permits. Sen. McIlhinney (R-Bucks) is considering introduction of a
similar bill in the Senate.

-- The General Assembly, Governor's Office and the Game Commission should
identify a funding base that is more stable and equitable than funding
derived almost exclusively from sources such as license dollars and
timber sales on game lands in order to facilitate the shift from
single-species management to ecosystem management.

For more information, visit Audubon Pennsylvania's website at:

SOURCE Audubon Pennsylvania and

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