MANAGING THE WHITE-TAILED DEER

On January 12, 2005 a working group of ten ecologists, wildlife managers, botanists, ornithologists and foresters released a report containing their recommendations about deer management practices in eastern forests. The ten professionals became known as the ”Deer Management Forum”. Reaction to their report has been both critical and supportive and Seven Mountains Audubon of Lewisburg, PA has these comments.

We are a chapter of the National Audubon Society with strong ties to the Pennsylvania office of the National Audubon Society. In April 2001 this Pennsylvania office and another group, The Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance, asked the Deer Management Forum to study options in deer management from an ecosystem perspective. The Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance comprises 38 different groups of sportsmen, fishermen, foresters and conservationists that have an interest in preserving all parts of the natural Pennsylvania environments that we have known. After 3 years of work the Forum released a 340 page report entitled Managing White-tailed Deer in Forest Habitat from an Ecosystem Perspective, Pennsylvania Case Study and a 9 page Executive Summary which we strongly endorse and urge you to read.

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Note: You can see the Executive Summary at:

Managing White-Tailed Deer in PA - Executive Summary (pdf-file)

Or You can download the Full Report at:

http://pa.audubon.org/deer_forum_report_main.htm

In either case, you’ll need the FREE Adobe Reader - available at

http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

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If you would like to read at least part of the report, Seven Mountains Audubon has placed copies on reserve at public libraries in three of the counties where we operate – Northumberland, Snyder and Union. You will find copies, on reserve, at: the Union County Public Library, 205 Reitz Blvd., Lewisburg,- the Herr Memorial Library, 500 Market St., Mifflinburg,- the West End Library, Rt. 235 in Laurelton,- the Milton Public Library, 23 South Front St. Milton,- the Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library, 100 King St. Northumberland,- the Degenstein Community Library, 40 S. Fifth St., Sunbury,- the Selinsgrove Community Center Library, 1 N. High St., Selinsgrove,- the Middleburg Library, 13 N. Main St. Middleburg,- and the Beavertown Library, 111 W. Walnut St., Beavertown. All librarians were pleased to receive copies of the report and will be glad to help readers find it.

The Forum report deals with historical, scientific, political, and personal issues that we encourage all to read. We suggest you start with the 9 page Executive Summary which reports major findings and recommendations regarding management of forests and wildlife as well as findings and recommendations regarding policy and administration. Be sure to observe the excellent front and back cover illustrations of natural features and deer-damaged habitat.

You might continue with some of the 197 pages of text in the main report, which are supplemented by 143 pages of end notes, references cited, and appendices. It is a thorough treatment of all issues that confront decision makers who would like to create sustainable forests with their indigenous plant and animal denizens recognized and preserved.

Many will find Chapter 3, pages 31 – 42, particularly fascinating with its Brief History of Penn’s Woods describing the influence of Native Americans, early lumbering, pests, and diseases and listing major forest types. This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the report.

Chapter 7, page 94 and 95 is a clear statement of the major objective of this report which is improving forest Structure, Diversity, Ecological Processes, and Ecosystem Functions. The statement “A forest is more than trees” recognizes the importance of all living things that are part of our forest habitat.

Chapter 5, pages 51 – 70 on the Role of Deer in Altering Forest Structure contains a comprehensive list of trees and shrubs that are destructively browsed by deer and also describes the effect this browsing has on the habitat for other species (small mammals, birds, amphibians and other plants). The Appendix E, a thorough listing of plants, animals and other organisms mentioned in the report, is a clear testament to the depth of the research that Forum members have conducted, and also speaks highly of their qualifications for knowing what exists in our environment.

Chapter 6, pages 77 – 89 describes Factors of Human Origin that Affect Forest Recovery. These include acidic deposition from the Midwest, fire suppression in oak forests, unsustainable tree harvesting, human introduction of pests and diseases and climate change. Some believe that acid rain is the major factor impeding the regeneration of Pennsylvania’s forests. The Forum report, on page 87, considers this opinion.

If funding was available to conduct Adaptive Resource Management (A.R.C.) as described on pages 174 – 176 of the report, then this debate could be settled. However, if you look at the illustrations on the back page of either the Report or the Executive Summary it seems obvious that browsing deer are a major factor in destroying understory plants in at least some Pennsylvania areas. We can keep the deer out by installing a fence but that fence cannot protect the fenced forest from acid rain.

Chapter 10, pages 145 – 151, Methods of Estimating Abundance of Deer demonstrates how difficult it is to determine deer abundance. In Chapter 13, page 184 we find that the Pennsylvania Game Commission (P.G.C.) estimates deer density using numerical harvest data, deer-vehicle collisions and agricultural damage. Using this method of estimating deer density you will find on Figure 3, page 122 – 123 that buck harvest/square mile in Union and Snyder counties hasn’t changed much between 19l5 and 1998. This figure doesn’t show does harvested..

Most Audubon members would like to see more hunter satisfaction with deer harvested because humans are the only large predators now available to keep the deer population in balance (p. 46). The number of hunters has slowly declined over the past 20 years (see page 211, figure 10 and page 213, figure 11) so it seems likely that control of deer populations will eventually fail, especially if antlerless deer harvest permits are decreased (p. 210).

Chapters 13, through 17, pages 183 – 247 and the following Major Findings and Recommendations, pages 249 – 254, deal with political and human issues.

We now know that “Unlike any other state, Pennsylvania’s management of wild animal species (vertebrate and aquatic invertebrate) is divided between two agencies the P.G.C. and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission “ (p. 189). The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources manages state parks and forests and maintains the database on endangered and threatened species but has no regulatory authority over wildlife. This division of authority and lack of attention to segments of our natural resource base is a major issue that would be politically difficult to change. The Forum report is a description of a problem that may lead toward a solution in the future.

It is obvious that Seven Mountains Audubon supports the Forum report and hopes that it is widely read by the interested public. By directing attention to a few of the many topics and opinions covered in the report perhaps we have stimulated your interest?

 

Again, the entire Forum report can be found on the internet at:

http://pa.audubon.org/deer_forum_report_main.htm