Game Commission studies deer herd

BY KENT JACKSON
Times Shamrock Writer

When forests don’t regrow, deer are the prime suspects.

If tree saplings get nibbled to the nub or new plants become scarce, deer might have overgrazed the forest floor.

The state Game Commission can react by issuing more doe licenses and permits to reduce the whitetail’s numbers.

Before thinning the herd through hunting seasons like the rifle deer season that begins today across Pennsylvania, however, researchers want to make sure that deer are, indeed, the cause of the damage.

Too little light through the canopy, too few seeds, dry or acidic soils or insect infestations all can trim the forest.

“Our objective is to manage the habitat, and if we’re making recommendations (to ensure) that we have the best available data and we’re not blaming deer for other factors,” Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises deer management for the commission, said.

Teams from the commission, Penn State University, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Unit of the U.S. Geological Survey will be gathering data.

In three state forests they will count saplings by species type, look at other vegetation and examine soil on approximately 200 plots. Fences will enclose some plots, allowing comparisons with unfenced areas where deer browse.

The researchers will note effects of prescribed fire, timbering and herbicide applications on forests. They will make recommendations for landowners, including the DCNR, which manages herds by allowing extra doe harvests through an approved program.

Also, researchers placed collars on deer that emit signals to satellites and report the animal’s position via text messages every 20 minutes.
Hunters will get involved by registering when they hunt in the study areas – parts of the Bald Eagle, Rothrock and Susquehannock state forests.

If they shoot a deer with satellite collars, they can return the equipment to researchers. They also can collect $100 bounties for taking deer on which the study teams placed ear tags.

After the season ends, hunters who registered will receive surveys by mail that they can complete by mail or email.

By answering surveys, hunters can help ensure that the deer population won’t be reduced unnecessarily, providing more game for them to stalk in the future.

“We rely on hunter cooperation so we get a better understanding of deer habitat and the hunter’s experience,” Mr. Rosenberry said.

The habitat selected for the multiyear study covers the oak and hickory forests of the ridge and valley terrain of midstate at Bald Eagle and Rothrock state forests. But the study also penetrates the northern hardwoods of Susquehannock State Forest in Potter County.

“That’s part of the intent – two study areas so these results are more applicable across the state,” Mr. Rosenberry said.

Satellite tracking will indicate how deer respond when hunters enter the woods and how much time deer spend in the study areas.

Carl G. Roe, the executive director of the commission, said the newest study will refine how the commission regulates deer hunting.

“We’re getting a better feel for the browse impact from deer,” Mr. Roe said to reporters during a telephone conference on Nov. 15. “If we had a stabilized deer herd, but the forest is regenerating slowly or not regenerating, there is an impact other than the browse. We’re trying to find where to keep that balanced in relation to the deer.”