Controlling whitetail deer populations with state-wide decisions is a difficult task, yet in the opinion of Greg Levensgood, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has it all wrong.
Reducing deer numbers is usually a premise of quality deer management, yet when done over vast regions, mistakes can be made that dramatically reduce hunter numbers and damage local economies. As Levensgood writes:
Supporters of the deer reduction plan have hid behind the word “science” and used it to intimidate legislators and commissioners for far too long. Former Wildlife Management Director Cal Dubrock understood this quite well as evidenced by his comment: “I get whatever I want from the commissioners. I just baffle them with bulls___.”
Unfortunately this “junk science” has lead to “the loss of 100-200,000 sportsmen, virtually silent woods on state lands even during opening days of a concurrent season, empty hunting camps, bankruptcies and the loss of countless family businesses, and a $4 billion loss to the state’s economy since 2001 that’s increasing at the rate of $415 million each year that the deer-reduction debacle continues.”
How can you possibly justify this?
John Eveland, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, came through with this well-reasoned response:
As has been documented within this Deer Management Series, the plan for the Game Commission’s deer-reduction program was initially concocted in 1998 in order to assist DCNR in achieving a green certification forestry award. While DCNR’s first green certification award was being broadcast with fanfare throughout the state, little mention was made of the original agreement’s contingency clause that required reduction of the deer herd. Instead, PGC announced that deer reduction was a scientific necessity, and from 2001 to the present the agency has effectively perpetuated this misconception that “science” alone justifies herd reduction. It is a fallacy, however, that needs to be addressed.
“Science” can sometimes be a confusing and, even, intimidating subject – especially for those who are responsible for overseeing PGC policy. As a point of fact, the author was told that Calvin DuBrock, PGC’s former Chief of Wildlife Management, said during a private meeting, “I get whatever I want from the commissioners. I just baffle them with bulls__t.” This method of operation, including the deer-reduction program, has succeeded because decision-makers in the State Legislature, Office of the Governor, and on PGC’s own Board of Commissioners trusted the agency to conduct its duties competently and honorably. Unfortunately, this circumstance has been all-too-well understood by PGC’s deer team – and grossly abused.
Benefits and Costs: There are two questions that need to be answered in order for “science” alone to be considered as a justification for reducing Pennsylvania’s deer herd:
(1) Are there any significant scientific “benefits” that result from the deer-reduction program?
(2) If so, do the scientific benefits offset the “costs” that might result from long-term herd reduction?
Regarding the first question, PGC has identified three science-based goals of the deer reduction program: improving the health of deer, improving forest health, and increasing biodiverstiy (primarily nongame birds and mammals, and forest wildflowers). Independent analysis has demonstrated that there have been no significant scientific improvements resulting from herd reduction – not for deer or forest health, and not for biodiversity. In fact, PGC’s own studies that were conducted “after” implementation of the deer-reduction program indicate that no significant problems for any of these three issues had existed even prior to herd reduction. Therefore, using “science” as an excuse to reduce the herd is unjustified and a misconception.
Regarding the second question, it would require dramatic and unprecedented improvements for deer and forest health, and nongame animals would have needed to be in great and immediate peril in order to justify the loss of 100-200,000 sportsmen, virtually silent woods on state lands even during opening days of a concurrent season, empty hunting camps, bankruptcies and the loss of countless family businesses, and a $4 billion loss to the state’s economy since 2001 that’s increasing at the rate of $415 million each year that the deer-reduction debacle continues. It is irresponsible for PGC to mislead sportsmen and legislators into believing the misconception that deer reduction is warranted based on “science”. Try convincing a farmer that it would be good for him to eliminate his cattle in order to grow more wildflowers in his pasture.
Again, even if some smidgeon of scientific relevance could be concocted from a 5-10 year study that PGC has recently proposed in order to find a new justification for their ill-conceived action, how could it begin to offset the great and lasting harm that has resulted from the biggest conservation mistake in the over-one-hundred-year history of the PGC? I’ll take the return of 10 lost businesses in Potter County over the “potential” increase of 10 more Indian cucumber roots per acre — anytime. A competent manager weighs and balances science with social, economic, and legal parameters. Attempting to justify more wildflowers over family businesses is the reason that natural resources policy should be determined by informed forest and wildlife managers instead of by the single-focused agenda of PGC’s deer team.
Where do you stand on the issue? Sound off in the comments section below.