Expanded Aerial Survey Efforts Underway to Better Gauge Deer Populations

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Governor Edward G. Rendell today said Pennsylvania will be able to get a better grasp of the size of its white-tailed deer population now that an infrared camera-equipped plane is flying over more than 500,000 acres of Pennsylvania woodlands.

“We are working together to build a better understanding of how to both improve the health of the deer herd and regenerate our forests,” Governor Rendell said. “This second round of aerial flights will build on our knowledge of how many deer are currently in our forests, and the number that the habitat can support so we can preserve our hunting heritage, as well as the economic and ecological future of our forestlands.”

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission have identified more than 505,000 acres of state forest and game lands for flights in 2006 -- more than twice the acreage covered in 2005, the first year of flights.

Sections of six state forest districts, seven state Game Lands, and two wildlife management units will be surveyed in aerial flights continuing into early spring. Results will be compared to on-the-ground measures of deer density and habitat conditions to provide a clearer picture of deer browsing impact on the forest ecosystems.

“In addition to acreage, the scope of the aerial survey will be broadened to include for the first time private woodlands in McKean County, where sportsmen met with me and requested state assistance,” Governor Rendell said. “We will be surveying portions of the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative, a project between hunters and land managers aimed at improving deer, wildlife habitat and forest management.”

The survey contract was awarded to Vision Air Research Inc., an Idaho-based independent wildlife research firm. Operating out of University Park Airport, Centre County, the firm’s crew and a specially equipped plane will fly over sections of north central Pennsylvania where hunters say there are few deer, and foresters say there is little forest regeneration.

Targeted acreage includes the PGC’s doe and fawn mortality study areas, as well as portions of the state forestland enrolled in the Game Commission’s deer management assistance program allowing hunters to kill additional deer.

“Until we have the best consensus around the deer population and habitat destruction, we will be forever locked in a battle of too few versus too many,” DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis said. “We are committed to working with the Game Commission and others to build a better understanding of how to both improve the health of the deer herd and restore forest habitat.”

“It is important to remember that forward-looking infrared data represents those deer sighted on a particular parcel, on a given day and time,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said. “It represents the minimum number of deer that may be present and shows grouped deer numbers that are then used to calculate an average per square mile number for an area.

“In selecting which state game lands to include in these flights, the agency chose areas with differing sizes, topography, proximity to populated areas and regions,” Roe said. “While the data is unable to be used to make deer management decisions across entire wildlife management units, we do believe that this data will help in demonstrating deer dispersion at the time of the flights and provide another source of information to help us understand deer and their activities."

To maximize areas surveyed and minimize costs, the Game Commission had requested that flights cover 50 percent sampling of its selected game lands, and an even smaller sampling of the two wildlife management units.

The scope and duration of the aerial operation remains dependent on weather conditions and the emergence of spring foliage. Last year 300,000 acres were targeted, but bad weather only allowed for 200,000 acres to be surveyed before leaf cover ended the operation.

In the 2005 survey, 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 was 20.29 deer per square mile in the Denton Hill area of the Susquehannock State Forest, in Potter County. Lowest concentrations 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.

Vision Air Research was founded to specialize in wildlife surveys using advance aerial infrared sensor technology (commonly called forward looking infrared – FLIR). A leader in use of FLIR for wildlife surveys, it has monitored elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose and sage grouse since 1996. More information can be found at www.visionairresearch.com.

State forestland tracts included in the 2005 and 2006 surveys can be found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us (select State Forests).