Game Commission Posts Final Urban Deer Management Plan

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In achieving another objective in its deer management plan, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has finalized its urban/suburban deer management plan to more effectively manage deer in developed areas of the state.  This new plan has been posted on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), and can be viewed by clicking on "Deer Program" in the "Quick Clicks" box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage and then selecting "Urban/Suburban Deer Management Plan."

"Human-deer conflicts are a real, not just a perceived, problem," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director.  "Pennsylvania primarily manages deer through hunting, but hunter success, especially in developed areas, is influenced by hunter access to land open to hunting and safety zone issues.

"The use of traditional hunting methods are always the most economical way to manage deer, and this plan employs traditional deer management techniques.  However, it also offers non-traditional deer management approaches, as well as an educational program that incorporates current practices and possible solutions into an integrated, comprehensive approach to resolve urban/suburban deer problems."

Roe noted that, due to the agency's limited financial resources, it would take time to implement all the strategies in the plan.

Although white-tailed deer provide many Pennsylvanians countless hours of recreational opportunities and enjoyment, are important to the state's economy, and are officially recognized as the Commonwealth's "state animal," Roe noted that they can wear out their welcome quickly when they begin stripping vegetation in yards and become obstacles on city and suburban streets.

The plan outlines four main goals: reduce deer impacts in developed areas using hunting options; reduce deer-human conflicts using non-hunting options where hunting options are shown to not be feasible or sufficient; inform urban leadership, residents, and hunters about deer management options and opportunities in developed areas; and encourage positive relationships between hunters and communities in developed areas.

To accomplish these goals, the urban/suburban deer plan includes recommendations to:

1) Expand hunting opportunities and create an "Urban Deer Control Program" that allows for the taking of deer outside of the regular hunting seasons in developed areas, similar to the Agricultural Depredation Program ("Red Tag" program);

2) Discourage deer feeding and support local ordinances that prohibit deer feeding in developed areas with unacceptable levels of deer conflicts;

3) Develop a written agency policy on the use of deer fertility control agents, then review and update the policy as needed.  While, no effective deer contraceptive program has been developed to effectively manage free-ranging deer populations, such as those in urban/suburban areas of the state, a comprehensive review of current literature and reports about ongoing studies needs to be conducted so the agency and the Bureau of Wildlife Management can be in a position to address the issue when it arises;

4) Increase availability of written, electronic, and web-based informational and educational publications and presentations concerning hunting and non-hunting deer management options in developed areas;

5) Create and develop a landowner/hunter database template to be used by communities and municipalities to identify available hunters; and

6) Provide an advanced hunter education course for hunters in developed areas.

The lack of hunter access to lands open to hunting historically has hindered efforts to reduce deer numbers in suburbia. Other challenges include sporting arms limitations; safety zone restrictions; public perceptions about hunters; and the inconveniences and lack of appeal associated with hunting in areas with large numbers of people, homes and automobiles.

"We believe that the urban/suburban deer management plan provides a starting point from which the Game Commission can help hunters, landowners and municipal officials achieve mutually acceptable goals by giving them more tools to exercise greater control of the deer population in highly-developed areas of the state," Roe said.  "Some of these steps we can begin working on immediately.  However, others, such as the proposal to permit baiting for deer hunting in certain special regulations areas counties, will need to be approved by the Board of Game Commissioners."

Still, Roe noted that the Game Commission has continued to work on this issue by taking action to enact other steps to address urban/suburban deer issues.  For example, the Board, at its April meeting, gave final approval to help farmers in two of the state's most developed Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) address high deer populations by relaxing some of the regulations of the "Red Tag" program.

Under the measure, farmers in Wildlife Management Units 5C and 5D in the southeastern corner of the state will be able to participate in the "Red Tag" program without having to enroll in the agency's Cooperative Public Access programs and without having to place signs along their property boundaries identifying their property as enrolled in the "Red Tag" program.  Additionally, farmers will be permitted to give hunters up to two permits, rather than the standard one permit per hunter.

The Game Commission's five-year Deer Management Plan - adopted in 2003 - identifies the reduction of deer-human conflicts as one of its three goals. Those conflicts are most common in urban/suburban settings, places many Pennsylvanians rarely consider whitetail country. But the deer are there, often in excessive numbers, causing property damage and genuine safety concerns.

"The Game Commission is challenged to minimize the negative impacts of urban/suburban deer, yet retain the positive benefits they provide many metropolitan residents," Roe said. "Our goal is not to eliminate whitetails in urban/suburban areas. Rather, we are striving to provide options that any community with deer damage can use for relief.  But communities must recognize that there are no quick fixes, or one-time solutions to reducing deer-human conflicts in urban/suburban settings.

"Communities also must recognize that they will need to take an active role in managing the deer within their community.  Deer must be managed aggressively in these situations. If they aren't, years of progress can disappear over a relatively short period of time. Every community needs a deer management plan that is supported by residents and actively pursued."

Roe pointed out that a combination of tools and strategies must be used to be successful, and the Game Commission's urban/suburban deer management plan identifies those tools currently being offered, as well as those tools that the agency's Board of Game Commissioners needs to approve before being implemented.

"This plan is not intended to solve individual community deer issues.  Rather it is a guide on how to help communities help themselves," Roe stressed.  "Overabundant urban deer populations can be damaging and unsafe.  Communities must take action before the problem becomes unbearable."

Last year, from April until mid-September, the agency sought public input prior to developing the urban/suburban deer management plan.  A draft plan was unveiled in April for additional public comment prior to finalizing the plan.  More than 600 residents offered comments that were reviewed and used by members of the agency's Deer Management Section in drafting and revising the plan.

Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat.  The agency also conducts numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations and sportsmen's clubs. 

The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars for its annual operating budget.  The agency is funded by license sales revenues; the state's share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals derived from State Game Lands.