Monday, February 04, 2008

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: Possible Changes for Next Season

The Pennsylvania Game Commission may change the look of the firearms deer season, based on the promise of a study that it hasn't started and isn't sure how it's paying for it.

Commissioners gathered in Harrisburg this past week to give preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2008-09 hunting seasons. Before taking votes, they heard detailed staff reports each lasting as long as 30 minutes on elk, bears, bobcats, fishers, turkeys, and grouse.

When it came to white-tailed deer, though -- the animal that generates by far the most controversy in the state -- commissioners instituted potentially sweeping changes after a 5-10 minute report from a backup biologist.

Commissioners agreed, by a 4-3 vote, to limit hunting to buck only on the first five days of the firearms deer season in wildlife management units 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B. Buck and doe hunting would be then allowed concurrently from the first Saturday of the season until the last Saturday.

Deer season would remain the same as it has been -- two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting -- across the rest of the state.

The changes are preliminary. Commissioners have to give them final approval in April to put them into effect.

The commission's deer biologists didn't recommend the changes. They wanted to maintain two weeks of concurrent hunting statewide and shape the size of the deer herd using doe license allocations, said Bret Wallingford, a member of the agency's deer team, who spoke in place of its ill leader, Chris Rosenberry.

But the commission's "senior management team" directed them to prepare an alternative, executive director Carl Roe said.

He did that, according to information he shared previously with others inside the agency, in an attempt to appease state lawmakers who have been holding up the agency's long-sought license fee increase. It may not be enough. Some of those same lawmakers said before the meeting that nothing short of a return to two weeks of buck hunting followed by three days of doe statewide would convince them to give money to the commission.

Yet commissioners made the change anyway.

The change is to be tied to hunter surveys and a study examining the impact of the newly-shaped season on hunter success rates. But that study exists only in theory right now.

The commission needs to collar and track 100 deer each in management units 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B for any study, Wallingford said. The commission already had plans to collar bucks in units 2G and 4B this winter in cooperation with Penn State University.

But there is no staff in place to capture deer in the other units, despite the fact that such work is usually carried out at this time of year, and no partner like Penn State to help the cash-strapped agency pay for it, Roe said. He said only that the agency will have to find the money "somewhere."

Five commissioners added a footnote to their support for the study. They voted in favor of a resolution that no further changes be made to deer seasons over the course of the next four years while the study is being carried out.

That appears to be meaningless, however. Commissioner Tom Boop of Northumberland County -- an opponent of the deer program who will still be on the board when some of its most ardent supporters are gone -- said commissioners can't legally dictate what future boards can or can't do.

That's true, said commissioner Russ Schleiden of Centre County, but the footnote at least gets the board's "intent" on the record.

Game on

Here's a look at the 2008-09 deer hunting seasons given preliminary approval by Game Commissioners this past week. All need final approval in April:

• Deer, archery, antlerless only: WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D, Sept. 20 to Oct. 3, Nov. 17 to 29 and Dec. 15 to 23.

• Deer, archery, statewide: Oct. 4 to Nov. 15 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 10.

• Deer, antlered and antlerless, WMUs 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B: Dec. 1 to 5.

• Deer, antlered and antlerless, 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B: Dec. 6 to 13.

• Deer, antlered and antlerless, the remainder of the state: Dec. 1 to 13.

• Deer, antlerless, juniors and seniors: Oct. 23 to 25.

• Deer, antlerless, muzzleloader statewide: Oct. 18 to 25.

• Deer, antlered or antlerless, flintlock statewide: Dec. 26 to Jan. 10.

• Deer, antlerless, WMUs 2B, 5C, 5D: Dec. 15 to 23 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 24.


1 comment:

Chris said...

Pennsylvania deer managementis at a critical point in time. Hunters in parts of the State that used to see lots of deer are not seeing any. Parts of Potter County, which used to be famous for its deer hunting, are almost devoid of deer. I know four hunters that saw 2 deer during the first 2 days of rifle season in this area. 200 deer would have been the average just 10 years ago.

The deer management strategies broadly placed across all of PA have left suburban and urban areas overcrowed with deer and rural areas suffering. Some of us are deeply concerned that industries like lumber and farming, which have no interest in healthy deer populations, have the ear of decision-makers in PA.

I must say that there are many who think these concerns are overblown by those of us who were just spoiled with our hunting success of years past. This may be true in part but many long-time hunters are leaving the woods. Small towns that used to thrive from the economy of hunting are suffering. And, in my opinion, future hunting rights could be compromised with the lack of hunters.

We'll never be able to return to the deer numbers of years ago. But we must sustain a healthy and balanced deer population throughout PA, and I am not sure that is happening currently.