Wednesday, December 19, 2007

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: Suburban Cull Impinges On Deer Season--Anger Ensues

Over six months sharpshooters have killed 465 deer in Solebury in a program that farmers and hunters say has led to a noticeable drop in the whitetail population — though they disagree on whether that is a good thing.

“We're seeing an immediate response,” said Harris Glass, who is overseeing the cull. “The deer are just not there.”

This year, supervisors approved a more than $250,000 plan that calls on the federal Department of Agriculture to kill deer at volunteer properties over 24 months. In June, a three-man crew began the effort, which provoked outcry from animal lovers and sportsmen, who feared it would hurt the hunting season.

Glass, the state director of USDA's Wildlife Services, said 465 whitetails have been taken— made up of 126 bucks, 181 does and 158 deer less than 1 year old.

That's out of a Solebury population originally estimated at 4,500, or roughly half the number of people in the township. Officials say the program is necessary to reduce a nuisance animal that threatens farmers' livelihood, slows reforestation and causes almost daily car accidents.

But the lower numbers have some hunters saying it has hampered their sport, as they have found fewer, and smaller, deer.

It's a constant topic of conversation among sportsmen, said Bill Campo, a Doylestown bow and muzzle-loader hunter who has hunting spots in Solebury.

“The opportunity to take larger does and larger bucks is a lot less,” Campo said. “It's kind of sad because you've got the sharpshooters hunting a lot of older does and just leaving the yearlings.”

In total, the crew spent 26 nights in the field, and shot deer — including bucks — throughout the six months.

That runs counter to statements Wildlife Service made earlier this year, when it said it would take only does while hunters were in the field during the primary sport season, which ran from Nov. 26 to Dec. 8.

Glass said the crew reduced its effort during that time, and focused on does. But four bucks were among the 42 deer killed in November and December, he said.

“If we found the deer in the act of doing damage, we did take bucks. If they are in a fenced in, enclosed nursery, they are fair game,” Glass said.

It is rare for culling programs to continue at all during the hunting season, said Jerry Feaser, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Usually, they are held afterward, to avoid competing with sportsmen, he said.

“This is unusual,” Feaser said. “But the driving force behind the effort in this case is based on reducing the amount of deer depredation to nursery stocks, arboretums, etc.”

Lars Crooks, who helps manage a tree farm off Route 263, said he is seeing a fifth of the deer he used to at his family's 72 acres. Instead of herds of deer, smaller family groupings are more prevalent, he said.

“We've absolutely seen a reduction in numbers. There's no doubt about it,” Crooks said. “Before it was almost the suburbs for them, they were just everywhere.”

He said the impact is sure to show for farmers who have long seen significant losses to deer grazing.

“This is the first year that I remember that I've found acorns on the ground at this time of year,” he said. “Usually, the deer would have eaten them all up by now.”

Paul Lanctot, a bow hunter who lives on Laurel Road in Solebury, said he did get his buck this year, though it took longer than expected.

“There are a lot less deer, no question about it,” Lanctot said. “I'm not the only one; we've all said the same thing.”

Solebury's effort comes as many communities are looking at ways to bring down high deer populations.

Upper Makefield has hired a private company to coordinate bow hunting in the township. Lower Makefield is also considering encouraging archery after they had mulled sharpshooters.

Solebury's crew bags deer only from properties that have signed up for the program. It has been granted access to 13 percent of the township's acreage, though it has so far been concentrating on the largest parcels, Glass said.

On those lands, the number of deer has fallen significantly, Glass said. But in other places in the township, he said he is sure strong deer populations remain.

“We pass up numerous properties where we're seeing deer, but we don't have permission to enter,” Glass said. “The bucks are still there to be taken. And I'm sure [hunters] have taken them there, nice ones.”

Wildlife Services gives the meat of the deer it takes to area food banks. So far, more than 12,000 pounds of venison have been donated, Glass said.


1 comment:

Haley Shae said...

Interesting blog! I lived in Minnesota for a summer. The number of deer was really high, due to wolves being removed from the landscape. The amount of dead white pines was shocking- entire species were being excluded from the forest!