Deer management and a half dozen pieces of legislation related to deer management and hunting policies in the Commonwealth were discussed in Harrisburg on Wednesday.
The House Game and Fisheries Committee, chaired by state Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, heard testimony from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.
“The one thing that came out of the meeting today (Wednesday) is that there are many different opinions on all the topics that we talked about,” noted Causer. “As legislators, we hear from our hunters quite often about how they aren’t seeing many — or any deer — in areas they have hunted for generations. They are understandably frustrated, and have been for a very long time. They deserve answers and solutions.
“We held this hearing ... to gather information about proposals that have been put forth by lawmakers to address some of the concerns raised by our sportsman community.”
One major issue that was debated in the hearing is the possible change of rifle season opening on a Saturday rather than Monday.
“This is an idea I don’t support,” Causer said. “I think it’s been a tradition and it brings people into the area on a Monday, which helps the economy.”
A recurring issue raised by members during questioning of Calvin DuBrock, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, was the soundness of the science used to manage the state’s deer population. Members questioned whether sufficient studies have been done on issues such as predation and forest regeneration to back up policies and decisions made by the commission.
Another significant concern is a lack of harvest reporting, both by individual hunters and by property owners in Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) areas. Without accurate reporting, there is little faith in the accuracy of the commission’s harvest reports and population estimates.
“The commission says its data shows a well-balanced deer population and good harvest numbers,” Causer said. “Our hunters who are actually out there in the woods during hunting season are telling us they aren’t seeing many deer. I’ve experienced that myself. So it’s no wonder people are calling the commission’s numbers into question.”
Members also expressed skepticism about the commission’s surveys of the general population about deer numbers, rather than focusing on hunters, citing a statistic that 66 percent of residents were satisfied “with opportunities to view or watch deer in Pennsylvania.”
In addition to general testimony about deer management, testifiers were also asked to offer their thoughts on six bills currently before the committee that address deer management and deer hunting policies. Those bills include: House Bill 1870 (Rep. Deberah Kula, D-Fayette/Westmoreland), which excludes public land from the DMAP program; House Bill 1146 (Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny), which removes antler restrictions for senior hunters; House Bill 1370 (Rep. Deberah Kula, D-Fayette/Westmoreland), which establishes a separate three-day antlerless deer season following the regular rifle antlered deer season; House Bill 1724 (Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks), which designates wildlife management units and issuance of antlerless deer permits on a county basis; House Bill 1726 (Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks), which directs the Pennsylvania Game Commission to use the maximum sustained yield method of game and habitat management; and House Resolution 576 (Rep. Greg Lucas, R-Crawford/Erie), which urges the Pennsylvania Game Commission to study the possibility of starting the rifle deer season on a Saturday.
In touching on each of the bills, DuBrock seemed to indicate each measure was unlikely to achieve the results intended by the members who introduced measures. He did not offer a position on the resolution.
In his testimony before the committee, Randy Santucci of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania indicated support for the initiatives, with the exception of the resolution because he believes a Saturday start would be damaging to the state’s deer hunting heritage.
Melody Schell testified on behalf of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, indicating the group’s opposition to all of the bills “because we do not support wildlife management via legislation.”
Approximately 50 people attended the hearing, as well as 20 lawmakers.
“The attendance at (the) hearing shows just how passionate our sportsman community and the legislators who represent them are about this issue,” Causer said. “As a committee, we will be reviewing the testimony offered ... and taking a closer look at existing proposals as well as any others that may help restore and protect our Commonwealth’s hunting heritage.”
“The meeting went very well,” Causer added. “We will continue to have more meetings to further understand these issues.”
Video of the hearing, as well as copies of the testimony, are posted at www.repcauser.com/sportsmen.aspx.