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Monday, May 23, 2011

PA is raising the number of doe tags given out this year!

The length of doe season is changing. The number of doe licenses to be available is changing. Antler restrictions are changing. The Deer Management Assistance Program is changing.
Other than that, this year's deer hunting will look just like last year's.
When Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gathered in Harrisburg earlier this month to give final approval to seasons and bag limits for 2011-12, a number of species were discussed, some extensively. But deer, as always, dominated.
One change expanded the number of wildlife management units that will be managed under a split season format - five days of bucks-only hunting followed by seven days of either-sex hunting - to 11. The state's other 11 units will feature 12 days of concurrent buck and doe hunting.
The units with the split season are 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E. Those with concurrent hunting are 1A, 1B, 2B, 3A, 3D, 4A, 4C, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.
That was not a surprise. Commissioners had given the change tentative approval in April, and stuck to the idea, even though enough people testified in opposition to the idea that Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, congratulated them on "connecting split seasons to everything but drought and famine in Africa."
Commissioners also adopted another proposal that had been championed earlier in the year by Martone and Commissioner Bob Schlemmer, of Westmoreland County.
The change is that units where bucks previously had to have four antler points to a side to be legal will now be managed according to a "3-up" rule. That means any buck with three points on one side - excluding the brow tine - will now be legal.
The change - which impacts units 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D - was adopted to make it easier for hunters to identify what is a legal deer, said Schlemmer.
"I've heard from a lot of our older hunters in particular who wanted to say thank you because now they don't have to worry about that brow tine," Schlemmer said.
Hunters don't have to look for the tine, but if they see one in those units, they can't count it as the third point, warned commission Executive Director Carl Roe.
Commissioners also set the number of antlerless deer licenses to be made available. In most management units, the allocation is designed to keep the herd at existing levels.
There are a few exceptions. The commission is - as always - trying to lower the deer population in the state's three most urban units, including 2B, which surrounds Pittsburgh.
They also upped the number of doe permits issued in units 2D, 2F and 3D. In the case of 2F, it was to offer more opportunity, since licenses there typically sell out within a matter of days, explained Martone.
In 2D, the goal is to lower the deer herd, as a citizen advisory council recommended, he added.
In Unit 3D, the goal is to lower the deer herd a bit more and speed up forest recovery, said Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County.
Commissioners lowered the doe license allocation to allow the deer herd to grow in units 3B, 4D and 4E.
Commissioner Tom Boop, of Northumberland County, who recommended those adjustments, said he would have preferred more dramatic changes.
"I'm just really tired of catering to the timber industry on wildlife. Whether people like it or not, we are about providing recreational opportunities for hunters," Boop said.
Boop's frustration - long on display over the deer program - was nothing new. He predicted back in January that the buck harvest from 2010-11 would be drastically down over prior years.
That didn't come to pass, at least according to the commission's chief deer biologist, Chris Rosenberry. The agency's estimated buck harvest in particular was actually 13 percent higher than the year before.
Boop, in a March 16 letter to Roe, questioned the veracity of that.
"Quite frankly, no one that I have talked to since the news release believes that the estimated antlered harvest figures are accurate," Boop wrote to Roe.
"Although I would like to believe that ‘no creative accounting' has been utilized, I am skeptical,"
He continued in that same vein at the commission meeting. When Rosenberry gave a presentation to the board, Boop asked him if he actually believed Pennsylvania held enough deer to support a harvest of 316,240, last season's estimate.
Some have suggested that would mean Pennsylvania had upwards of one million deer, or 36 per square mile, he said.
Rosenberry's answer was that "it doesn't matter." The commission does not manage deer based on how many live within the state, he said. It manages deer on a unit basis, with the size of the herd in each based on deer and habitat health and human tolerances.
"If those goals for the deer program are being met, it doesn't matter" what the number of deer is, he said.
Cal DuBrock, head of the commission's Bureau of Wildlife Management, echoed those sentiments when asked about the total number of doe licenses being issued this fall.
The total is 902,000, the highest it's been in the last several years. But that's irrelevant, given that the commission manages deer by specific wildlife management units, he said.
Commissioner Delaney said commissioners and the public would like to have population estimates, though.
He also asked why Pennsylvania's forests are not getting healthier faster, given the presence of fewer deer compared to past highs.
Roe suggested it's possible to see quicker change, but only by further lowering deer numbers and keeping them down longer, something that would likely prove unpopular with many hunters.
"That's where the social aspect of management comes in," he said.
"It takes time," Rosenberry added.
Finally, commissioners changed the rules regarding DMAP. It gives landowners coupons that hunters can redeem for doe permits good for their specific properties.
Last year, commissioners capped the number of permits and counted them against the overall doe license allocation.
This year, there is no limit on coupons, and they will be offered in addition to regular doe licenses.
Requests for coupons must be justified, however, said President Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County.
"Public landowners will have to present a management plan for their property, and it will have to be approved by staff," Weaner said.

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