Pennsylvania Advisory Committees Influence Deer Management

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The Pennsylvania Game Commission's efforts to heighten public participation in deer management took a big step forward recently when agency biologists considered Citizen Advisory Committee recommendations for deer population changes in four of the state's 22 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).

Citizen Advisory Committees (CACs) were first employed in the Game Commission's deer management program in 2006, when a pilot committee - comprised of stakeholders with varying interests in deer - was used in WMU 4B, comprising Perry and parts of Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin and Snyder counties, to develop a recommendation on how the deer herd should be managed over the next five years.

These groups have helped pioneer a new way to integrate community input into the biological analyses and methodical deliberations that have long defined deer management by assembling residents to identify and arbitrate collectively their local deer management goals in relation to the deer-human conflict measure and to relay that information to the agency's Deer Management Section.However, when making a final decision on its recommendations for deer seasons and bag limits, the Deer Management Section also considers deer herd health and habitat health.The measurements used to determine these two goals are outlined in the "Deer Program" section in the "Quick Clicks" box in the upper right-hand corner of the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us).

"Citizen Advisory Committees cultivate community outreach, program understanding and a local commitment by the agency to increase regional involvement in deer management decisions," explained Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. "They provide residents a chance to get involved and to see firsthand the diverse interests, concerns and priorities that influence deer management decisions. Most realize quickly this is a complex process that is anything but cut-and-dried."

This year, CACs were used to develop population management recommendations for WMU 1B, comprising Erie County and parts of Crawford, Venango and Warren counties; WMU 3B, comprising Sullivan County and parts of Bradford, Columbia, Lackawanna, Lycoming, Luzerne and Tioga counties; WMU 2C, comprising Somerset County and parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland counties; and WMU 5C, comprising parts of Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton counties.

While developing their recommendations, CACs consider deer population trend information in their respective WMUs, local deer health and forest habitat, as well as solicited public feedback. They conclude their work by making recommendations to allow deer numbers to increase, decrease or remain the same. Biologists in the agency's Deer Management Section evaluate that input when proposing antlerless deer license allocations to the Board of Game Commissioners, who also receive the results of the CAC process.

The five-year recommendations varied significantly from one committee to the next, illustrating both the differences in WMUs and member interactions and expectations. In WMU 1B, the committee opted for a 15 percent deer population increase.In WMU 5C, the committee recommended a 40 percent population decrease.In WMU 3B, the committee recommended no change.Each of these recommendations were adopted by the deer management staff in developing recommendations for the Board of Game Commissioners.

However, in WMU 2C, the agency's deer biologists chose not to follow the CAC's recommendation, which was to increase the deer population by 25 to 50 percent. The primary reasons for not following the recommendation were that deer health in the unit currently is considered poor, and forest habitat health there only recently has been upgraded to fair. If these measures improve - and the deer and habitat health measures are checked annually - the agency's staff will move to accommodate the CAC's desire to see the herd increase.

"We wish we could go along with the recommendations of every CAC," noted Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle, a biologist with the agency's Deer Management Section. "But, it's not that simple. Deer populations must be balanced with habitat to ensure forest and wildlife diversity, as well as deer herd health. Furthermore, deer numbers should not create undue human conflicts.

"Values and observations have been used by hunters, legislators and other stakeholders to influence the management of Pennsylvania's whitetails for more than 100 years. But there isn't - and has never been - a consensus deer population goal for people who sustain property damage from deer and those who count on the resource for recreation and hunting. And, there likely never will be common ground. Somebody will always want more deer, and others fewer.

"That enduring difference of opinion and the need for Pennsylvanians to learn more about deer management underscore the need for CACs. They are a refinement that can improve community involvement in deer management and increase public awareness of the science being used to manage deer."

Assisting the Game Commission in recruiting CAC teams and facilitating CAC meetings, the Governor's Office of Administration's Bureau of Management Consulting (BMC) has played a key role in the development of these specialized committees, and will continue to do so through 2011. The Bureau's role in the process ensures impartiality and procedural consistency. It also monitors committee member perceptions and positions through surveys, interviews and observations. Game Commission employees were on hand only to answer questions and provide background and technical assistance.

Glenn Florence, a consulting manager with BMC, said CACs are helping the Game Commission reach a broader citizen base and increasing public participation in deer management.

"The Game Commission depends upon the grassroots nature of these committees," Florence said. "Committee members contacted more than 1,100 people in their efforts to represent their particular stakeholder group, and they really opened up in the sessions to say their piece.

"The CAC process provides an opportunity to educate people from diverse backgrounds about deer management and its inherent complexities and intangibles. Members are leaving the CAC process with a greater understanding of what the Game Commission is up against. In fact, 13 of 22 members who replied to our post-session survey said they viewed deer management differently as a result of their involvement in CACs."

CAC member nominations were solicited from agency staff and more than 60 outside organizations, including those representing hunting, agricultural and forestry interests on both a local and statewide level. Each committee was comprised originally of 10 or more members.

The first meeting of a CAC after its formation is to acquaint members with the committee process and deer management. Members also are polled for their thoughts on their WMU's deer population and asked to collect opinions of others in the stakeholder group they represent. At their second meeting, the CAC members present their findings and discuss issues and attempt to achieve a consensus recommendation. The entire process occurs over a six-week period.

In 2008, CACs are scheduled to be held in five WMUs: WMU 2A, comprising Greene County and parts of Allegheny, Beaver, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties; WMU 4C, comprising parts of Berks, Carbon, Columbia, Dauphin, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties; WMU 4D, comprising parts of Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Snyder and Union counties; WMU 4E, comprising Northumberland and Montour counties and parts of Columbia, Dauphin, Lycoming, Luzerne, Schuylkill, Snyder and Union counties; and WMU 5A, parts of Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties.

Information on how to volunteer for a CAC, as well as complete "final reports" on each of the five CAC meetings held to date, deliberations and recommendations has been posted on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Click on "Deer Program" in the "Quick Clicks" box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage, and then choose "Opportunities for Citizen Input" under the "Support Strategies" category.

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.