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Reminder:This info maybe forwarded as long as PA Legislative Services and the PFSC are given credit for providing this info.



:00 a.m., 3/09/10, Room 205 Ryan Office Building

By Joseph McGarrity, PLS Intern



Members Present: Chairman Edward Staback (D-Lackawanna), Minority Chairman Ron Miller (R-York), and Representatives Mark Keller (R-Perry), Dom Costa (D-Alleghany) Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill), Deberah Kula (D-Fayette), David Levdansky (D-Alleghany), Michael McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) Keith Gillespie (R-York), Dan Moul (R-Adams), Curt Sonney (R-Erie), Todd Rock (R-Franklin), Harry Readshaw (D-Alleghany), Gary Haluska (D-Cambria), Jeffrey Pyle (R-Armstrong), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Tim Krieger (R-Westmoreland), Michael Peifer (R-Wayne), Mike Hanna (D-Clinton), and Marc Gergely (D-Alleghany).



The committee met to discuss the findings of the Deer Management audit conducted by the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI).



Scot Williamson, Vice President, Wildlife Management Institute, stated that WMI is a "private, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization, dedicated to the conservation, enhancement and professional management of North America's wildlife and natural resources." Williamson went on to explain the services that WMI provides, including conducting agency program reviews and assisting in the development of wildlife policy. He explained the deer management audit was intended to review the scientific basis of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's (PGC) deer management program. Williamson revealed WMI considered many factors such as "deer management goals, deer population and habitat measurements, and citizen input procedures." Williamson presented the findings and conclusions of the audit which ranged from acknowledging the Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) model as being scientifically sound and credible for monitoring the deer population and its trend to revealing the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) is not incorporating all citizen desires as it is currently established. Williamson also recommended several actions from WMI to be considered, including scrapping the "embryos per adult doe as an index of herd health" to increasing resources for measuring forest regeneration in Wildlife Management Units (WMU) across the state. Williamson stressed that WMI concentrated only on the "scientific foundation of the PGC deer management program" and the audit was not a "comment" on recommended policy decisions.



Rep. Levdansky noted he proposed the resolution that led to the audit and acknowledged it took longer than expected, but he hopes it will lead to constructive dialogue for managing PA's deer population.



Chairman Staback mentioned the health of the forest, health of the deer population and citizens' concerns are three subjects that were part of the audit. He asked for clarification of the report, particularly questioning if the deer population is an asset to the forest or if, as the report stated, the "abundance of deer is the major cause of forest regeneration failure." Dr. William Healy, with WMI, responded that deer are not the only hindrance disenabling forest regeneration, but the deer population is the primary factor. He offered several other factors inhibiting forest regeneration such acid precipitation, evasive species, and loss of tree species. He noted that Native Americans conducted controlled burns over the previous 5,000 years to enhance regeneration. Healy stated, "We can cope with those problems if we can keep deer populations at a reasonable level." Chairman Staback pressed by asking if deer are the major cause of forest regeneration failure and questioned if the immediate factor is the deer population or if there are other primary factors and deer are not the primary cause. Healy responded that there are other underlying factors that are serious, but deer are the immediate factor and the other factors contributing to forest regeneration failure cannot be dealt with unless the deer population is addressed.



Chairman Staback, referring to a 2005 study that found fewer deer in WMU habitats than before, asked if "less deer are in the woods and the habitat is getting worse, does that suggest other factors are coming into play?" Healy responded that there was an increasing trend of "poor" WMU, but the trend decreased in the last two measuring periods. He warned that forest systems are a product of lasting effects and will not change overnight. He stated "give the system enough time and you will see forest health improve if the deer herd is managed."



Chairman Staback asked if the problems with the data and methods used "not giving reliable information" in regards to herd health, support critics who question the scientific foundation of the measurements. Williamson responded that "most jurisdictions" in the range of white tail deer have looked at the health of the herd in terms of reproductive rates, but PA is the only state that uses reproductive rates as "a management goal." Williamson stated that the number of embryos per adult doe is based in good science, but the method is not sensitive enough. Williamson said the theory is that as the number of white tail deer, increases the habitat diminishes and the reproduction rates of deer decrease. Chairman Staback asked if the PGC should continue using the deer embryos to measure adult doe reproductive rates when making considerations. Williamson responded it should no longer be used and the PGC should consider fawn to adult doe transition and fawn reproductive rates.



Referring to the audit, Chairman Staback questioned how the inadequate harvesting reports affect how allocation is set and populations and trends. Williamson responded that WMI's report stresses incentives for reporting deer harvested, disincentives for not reporting, or a combination of both in order to increase reporting rates. Williamson stated that the method used by the PGC is scientifically sound, but "common sense would say if you are looking at 80% and estimating 20%, there is less room for error than if you are looking at 40% and estimating 60%." He stated WMI would be more comfortable if reporting rates were higher, but warned against providing disincentives to hunting and driving hunters and youth away from the sport. Chairman Staback asked how land managers know when enough deer have been killed, and raised the concern that by tying forest regeneration and deer population together risks killing off the deer while waiting for regeneration. Williamson suggested that the PGC use its experience "as it has done since 2005" and noted that PGC has stabilized herds and is waiting for forest regeneration. Williamson also noted that other factors are considered when examining forest regeneration.



Minority Chairman Miller asked, in regards to stressors on the forest health, if the deer herd is the being reduced. He suggested it might be the easiest factor to control rather than dealing with other stressors. Healy responded the deer are not the easiest to control and mentioned that the longer the deer problems last, the longer it will take to correct the forest regeneration situation. Healy stated, "We have to get habitat improved before deer numbers can be increased."



Rep. Goodman asked how the PGC deer harvest reporting can be credible scientifically but unsuccessful in its results. He also asked if the 25% deer reduction mentioned in the audit is accurate. Williamson reassured the committee the percentage is correct and stated the sampling of meat lockers is accurate. He noted there has "not been an assessment of biases." Minority Chairman Miller noted that PGC increased antlerless allocations in 2000 and asked if the report has any findings that the increase is motivated by financial gains. Williamson stated WMI looked at the same variables and found no instances of "deviation for financial gain." He noted the increase was strictly for deer management.



Rep. Levdansky attempted to understand how the PGC "goes about estimating the deer kill" and stated that the PGC cross references meat locker deer against the reported deer killed and uses that variable to determine unreported deer killed by allowing the PGC to estimate a deer kill number. Williamson stated the PGC utilizes another variable that gives a number and "a level of confidence about that number." Rep. Levdansky asked if the statistic is broken down by WMU. Williamson responded in the affirmative. Rep. Levdansky asked if hunters who butcher their own deer show up in the statistic. According to Williamson, they do not get reported in the statistic. He stated the hope is that the deer taken to meat lockers and counted have similar sex-age ratio as the deer that are home butchered. Rep. Levdansky stated that the fine for not reporting is $25 and has not been increased in 24 years. He said, "Since so much of deer management is predicated on this model" we need to have better harvest reporting and model to ensure efficient deer management.



Rep. Gergely asked what, other than hunting, kills the most deer. Williamson responded road kill is the next leading measurable cause of deer death. He noted that the PGC uses road kill deer to determine the reproductive rate by harvesting the embryos. Rep. Gergely asked if road kill deer are a factor in the index to determine herd numbers. Williamson revealed that road kill deer are already an indirect part of the SAK model and all morality is included and indexed in the SAK model.



Rep. Pyle suggested that incentives such as elk tags and bear tags be raffled in a pool of hunters who return their kill reports. He also recommended that a possible joint hearing between the House Game and Fisheries and House Environmental Resources and Energy be convened to discuss the issue further. Rep. Pyle asked how long forest regeneration will take if controlled burns are utilized. Healy estimated that it will take a decade before controlled burns will make forest regeneration a success.



Rep. Haluska discussed the increasing numbers of predators in PA and any effect that could have on the fawn mortality study. Williamson referred to the audit and stated they look at fawn to doe ratios in each WMU. He said there are "big difference between units" and noted the PGC could respond to the differences by using the SAK model. Rep. Haluska asked if predation is a cause of decreasing fawn populations. Williamson responded that a lack of resources in certain WMUs does not allow does to support fawns and they will die in a matter of weeks.



Rep. Krieger asked when the first regeneration problems were noticed. Williamson answered it was first noticed in the 1930s and 1940s. Rep, Krieger asked if the problem is getting better or worse. According to Williamson, WMI is encouraged by the data it is receiving from DCNR. Rep. Krieger noted that "the forest didn't appear to change, but we are no longer seeing deer." Williamson clarified that the model suggests the deer population decreased in "most units" and some units saw a decrease greater than 25% and other saw a slight increase. Rep. Krieger asked that if the fact that regeneration problems occur with and without suggests deer are not the primary factor. Healy responded that when much of PA's forest regenerated in the early part of last century, "there were not that many deer." Healy noted that "60% of state forest is up at 80-100 years old" and that makes the problem more obvious. According to Healy, a large portion of the forest is ready to be harvested and that makes the number of deer critical. Rep. Krieger asked if the WMU should be made smaller. It would make sense to shrink the size of the WMU, according to Healy, but he warned the units have to be large enough to get adequate sampling for "harvesting, deer health, forest health, and citizen desires."



Chairman Staback asked if WMI suggests continued killing of deer in areas that have not seen regeneration, even though the herd has already been reduced in the areas. PGC is stabilizing the deer herd until it can determine if regeneration is occurring and if PGC should increase, decrease, or continue to stabilize the herd, was the reply. Chairman Staback stated that PGC should be looking at other factors if regeneration is not occurring. Healy confirmed that foresters do take all other factors into consideration when determining their course of action to regenerate the forest. Chairman Staback asked for suggestions in dealing with concerned citizens and for enhancing the CAC process. Williamson stated that nothing is more important than addressing the concerns on constituents. WMI is not suggesting "throwing the baby out with the bath water" but rather suggests "tweaking" certain aspects of the deer management programs, such as statewide polls to reinforce the CAC. Chairman Staback asked if the PGC adopted suggestions made by the CAC. The PGC adopted 7 of the 15 recommendations, according to Williamson.



Roe briefly commented about the audit and stated, "We are pleased with the major conclusions of the reports." Roe offered to accept questions at a later date due to time restraints.



Jeffrey R. Souders

PFSC Legislative Liaison

2426 North Second St.

Harrisburg, PA 17110

717-232-3480
 

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Been posted for almost two days in Outdoor Issues. Light traffic there as well.
 

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"Healy responded that there are other underlying factors that are serious, but deer are the immediate factor and the other factors contributing to forest regeneration failure cannot be dealt with unless the deer population is addressed."
What?? So they can't deal with acid rain-huge problem, gypsy moths-enormous problem, Hemlock wooly ageldid-problem expanding, emerald ash borer moving in, oak wilt, Asian longhorn beetle, etc. until the "DEER ARE UNDER CONTROL" Who's he kidding? That's absurd. They blame the deer because that's what the insurance and forestry indutries that support and lobby the politicians want eliminated. I lost over 100 mature white and rock oaks on a mere 3 acres in the last 4 years to gypsy moths, many over 100 yrs. old. Gee, do ya think that might cause an oak regeneration problem when there's 95% kill rate by moths and there's no mature trees left to drop acorns?
 
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