Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Deer population destroying own habitat
The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) July 05, 2005
EDITORIALS: Deer population destroying own habitat
Calling exploding deer populations a "public menace," an article in the July-August issue of Audubon magazine pillories the Pennsylvania Game Commission for championing a large deer herd at the expense of the ecosystem.
"The situation in Pennsylvania has gone from hopeful to hideous," according to Ted Williams, the article's author. "Apparently that state will remain the continent's most graphic example of ecological blight wrought by backward, politically inspired management."
The article is right. Bowing to a small, but vocal clique of hunters who want to venture to their favorite spot in the woods and sit and wait until the deer come to them, the Game Commission has pursued game management policies for years that have left vast stretches of Penn Woods incapable of regeneration.
Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that the forests are dying and the commission, cowed by angry hunters, appears to be quietly abandoning the promising herd-reduction initiatives begun by wildlife biologist Gary Alt, who has left the commission's employment.
The fact is that the Game Commission likely will never pursue ecologically sound wildlife management policies with the energy and long-term commitment that are required so long as it continues to be largely supported by fees from hunting licenses.
As we've recommended many times before, the Game Commission, along with the Fish and Boat Commission, need to be integrated into the larger environmental conservation and management effort, that puts preservation of the habitat at the top of the scale of forest-related objectives.
Deer overpopulation isn't just a Pennsylvania problem, of course. And far from all hunters are oblivious to the ecological damage that deer inflict when their numbers are out of balance with their habitat. And while a vocal group of deer hunters tend to drive commission wildlife management decisions and seemingly legislative indifference to the consequences, in the end, the hunter also is the solution to the deer-overpopulation problem.
A successful deer-management strategy requires harvesting more deer. For that to be accomplished, the length of the deer-hunting seasons and the bag limits need to be expanded.
But traditions die hard in Pennsylvania. As the Audubon article notes: "For 80 years (Pennsylvania hunters) had gotten used to gross deer overabundance so that their sport more closely resembled a baited dove shoot than true deer hunting."
We should be offended by that statement, not because it tarnishes the state's reputation but because it is true.
Pennsylvania needs to get its hunting house in order to save the forests and all the species that depend upon them, including a healthy herd of white-tail deer.