Thursday, March 22, 2007

RESEARCH NEWS: Deer Impacts in Pennsylvania Forests Are Pandemic

Browse Monitoring Uncovers Troubling Data in State Woodlands

HARRISBURG, Pa., March 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Preliminary
findings from ongoing, extensive state forest studies of the effect of
white-tailed deer populations on woodland regeneration show habitat damage
is the heaviest in the north central and Pocono Mountains areas of the
state, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael
DiBerardinis said today.

"Like our past surveys from the air, this unprecedented study on the
ground of what deer eat, or browse, is proving to be an invaluable tool in
understanding deer densities and distribution in our state forestlands, and
it is guiding future DCNR efforts to ensure forest regeneration and healthy
habitat," said DiBerardinis.

"And, like those aerial counts, these browse-study findings are just a
single snap-shot in time, incapable of documenting whether forest habitat
health is improving or declining. They will, however, provide a meaningful
baseline to compare in future trend analyses."

The browse studies, which were conducted last year and covered almost
90 percent of the state forest system, showed findings the secretary deemed

"Across the entire state forest system, less than 25 percent of the
41,650 plots showed desirable regeneration, and almost 45 percent of the
plots lacked any new, woody growth," DiBerardinis said. "The problem is
more acute in the state's north central 'big woods' section where almost 50
percent of the study plots show no woody regeneration and only about 20
percent desirable regeneration. The most severely browsed habitats were
documented in the north central and Pocono regions of the state.

"For these reasons, it would be premature to draw any conclusions that
would support an increased deer herd, even in areas where we observed
relatively low-browse damage," DiBerardinis said.

The secretary applauded the commitment of Bureau of Forestry personnel
from 19 of the state's 20 state forest districts who undertook the browse
studies during early spring in 2006.

"Never has there been an undertaking of this magnitude in which data
from 1,600 miles of transects was entered into the bureau database for
analysis," said DiBerardinis. "These researchers are foresters first, but
they also are hunters and naturalists and all are dedicated to restoring
forests to a healthy level where deer and other wildlife have sufficient
food and cover."

"We will use this detailed vegetation analysis in conjunction with past
aerial surveys to help guide our management decisions and adjust our
efforts to steer hunters to certain state forest areas in the 2007-2008
hunting season," DiBerardinis said.

Transects, which are lines for ecological measurements, were spaced two
miles apart. They were sampled by visiting vegetative plots every 200 feet,
recording woody species, and assigning a browsing category to that species
at that plot. Also, presence or absence data was recorded for "desirable"
and "undesirable" woody vegetation at every plot.

Woody plants include trees, shrubs and vines. Woody plants dominate the
vegetation wherever conditions are favorable for plant growth. Deer feed on
the leaves, twigs and buds of these plants.

Other survey findings include:
-- Data gathered aided in development of a preliminary deer-browsing
preference index for woody species observed, which will help guide
future monitoring efforts and provide browse intensity indicators;

-- Across the state, the proportion of plots with desirable regeneration
(24.45 percent) and lack of woody regeneration (44.45 percent) indicate
browsing has not been suppressed long enough for a widespread
regeneration response;

-- Identifying browsing impact from lowest to most severe, the Forest
Districts ranked as follows: relatively lightly browsed with better
regeneration -- Lackawanna, Buchanan, Michaux, Tiadaghton, Tuscarora,
Gallitzin, and Cornplanter; relatively moderately browsed with less
regeneration -- Moshannon, Susquehannock, Rothrock, Forbes, Bald Eagle,
and Tioga; relatively severely browsed with poor regeneration --
Weiser, Kittanning, Wyoming, Sproul, Delaware and Elk;

-- Monitoring will continue to locate other areas of continued
excessive browsing where deer harvests should be increased, and these
efforts will be coordinated in the State Forest Management Plan.

Details on the 2006 state forest deer browse study, as well as DCNR's
aerial surveys and other information on deer, can be found online at and select "State Forests."


Monday, March 19, 2007

IOWA NEWS: Heartless Poaching or Act of Civil Disobedience?

There's a trial beginning today in eastern Iowa that will be closely followed across the entire state.

A tree farmer will go on trial in Tipton for the unlawful killing of a deer. It's a case that will test whether Iowans can kill the destructive animals on their own property.

Kevin Kelly freely admits that he killed a deer on his property. In fact the 55-year-old said he called the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to report the act.

But Kelly maintains he did nothing illegal. He said he was simply protecting his property and that the deer was harming his tree farm. He frames his case as a test of Iowa's constitution.

"The case will determine whether Iowans can control destructive animals on their private property, as guaranteed by the Iowa constitution," Kelly said.

Others, including DNR officials, do not follow Kelly's logic.

"The case calls into question the North American conservation model, where wildlife is entrusted to the public," said Dale Garner, chief of the DNR's Wildlife Bureau.

Garner said that, under that system, "deer do not belong to private landowners to do with as they please."

Kelly has argued that the Iowa constitution allows property owners to defend their property. He points to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 1915 that overturned the conviction of a Pottawattamie County farmer who was accused of shooting a deer that had been eating his corn.

But others say that Kelly had other options, including a variety of programs offered by the DNR. Kelly maintains that the state did very little to help his situation. The state is expected to present evidence to the contrary.

"He should have exhausted all options before he took matters into his own hands," said Tom Fassbinder of Guttenberg, who, like most deer hunters, hopes Kelly is convicted.

"He is a poacher who needs to be punished like any other poacher," said Fassbinder, publisher of the Whitetail Fanatic magazine.

Randy Taylor, the president of the Iowa Bowhunters Association, likewise said that no good can come from a victory for Kelly.

"It would mean open season for any farmer who wants to kill a deer or for anyone else who comes along," said Taylor, of Reasnor.

Others are sympathetic. Corn and soybean farmer Tom Griffin of Winthrop said he has mixed emotions about the case.

"I love deer, but if I were a tree farmer, I would probably learn not to," said Griffin, who described his crop losses to deer as acceptable "because I love to watch and hunt deer."

If convicted, Kelly could be the subject to fines of $100 on each count, plus a civil penalty of $1,500 representing the value of the deer.