DCNR Receives Initial Findings of Aerial Deer Survey

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The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) commented on an initial round of data from an independent wildlife researcher conducting an aerial count of white-tailed deer populations on about 250,000 acres of state forestland.

DCNR has contracted with Vision Air Research to better estimate deer populations on Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) areas on state forestlands.

Vision Air Research obtained filmed evidence of deer in the forests below and interpreted the results. Data released today represents about 30 percent of the total acreage being flown.

“We intend to combine the infrared data with habitat information to see where we may continue to seek changes in deer densities,” DiBerardinis said. “It should be no surprise to anyone that this snapshot shows fewer deer in areas where there is no regeneration, little food and sparse habitat. A healthy, regenerating forest means a healthy deer herd.

“We believe the Game Commission’s efforts to bring the herd down are working, but more time is needed for hunters to use DMAP permits to take additional deer on state forest lands to further reduce the herd,” Secretary DiBerardinis said.

Vision Air Research, based in Idaho, specializes in wildlife surveys using advance aerial infrared sensor technology—commonly called forward looking infrared (FLIR). A leader in the use of FLIR for wildlife surveys, it has filmed and interpreted results on elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose and sage grouse since 1996.

“In some areas, our flights show deer density far beyond what the Pennsylvania Game Commission deems suitable for available habitat,” said Vision Air Research Inc. President Susan Bernatas. “And in other areas, the numbers were lower. Like the terrain over which we flew, deer numbers varied significantly from forest tract to forest tract.”

So far, the highest concentrations of deer were found in the Promised Land area of the Delaware State Forest, Pike County, where 23.69 deer were found per square mile. The second highest whitetail concentration noted by Bernatas was 20.29 deer per square mile in the Denton Hill area of the Susquehannock State Forest, in Potter County.

The lowest concentrations she found were in the Cedar Run section of Tioga State Forest, Tioga County, 9.64; followed by the southern section of Sproul State Forest, in Clinton County, 10.69.

Commenting on DCNR's investment into these aerial surveys, Game Commission

Executive Director Vern Ross noted that DCNR and the Game Commission will both be able to benefit from this data.

“We appreciate the commitment shown by DCNR and Secretary DiBerardinis in assisting the Game Commission's efforts to improve deer management in Pennsylvania," Ross said. "Data such as this will enable DCNR to craft their proposals for the 2005-2006 Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) for each of these specific tracts of state forestland.”

The Bureau of Forestry is launching an extensive analysis to see what is happening on the forest floor in areas surveyed by Bernatas.

“We know the success hunters had in certain areas, thanks to recent DMAP returns, and they support what Susan has been seeing on her film,” J. Merlin Benner, DCNR wildlife biologist said. “It’s important to note that the plane’s camera may well miss deer if they are bedded down in hemlock or other dense cover, but it does show that deer exist in these areas – and in some areas, well beyond the Game Commission’s over-wintering density.”

Benner pointed out these numbers are reflective of the herd after the hunting season closed. Based on the flight findings and regeneration studies, DCNR may alter its requests for DMAP coupons in certain areas, he said.

Bernatas said her aerial flights since their mid-February start were beset by prolonged periods of bad weather that made safe night flights at low attitudes impossible. The entire project—flying and interpretation of film—should be wrapped up by early May, she said.

Results for the other areas completed are:

Arnot section of Tioga, Tioga State Forest District, 10.91 deer per square mile; Algerine Wild Area, Tiadaghton State Forest, Lycoming County, 13.97; and McIntyre Wild Area, Tiadaghton State Forest, Lycoming County, 18.21.