HUNTING Pennsylvania goes high-tech to determine deer population

A company is using aerial infrared to count deer.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- An Idaho-based company is taking to the air with video cameras and infrared equipment that can detect the body heat of animals to conduct a census of deer in Pennsylvania's 281,000 acres of state forest land.
The numbers could be used to determine how many special doe-hunting coupons are issued under the state's Deer Management Assistance Program, and how long they'll be valid, state officials said.
"We can see dogs, we can see a deer's ear, we can tell what's a puddle, what's a stick, what's a rock," said Susan Bernatas, president and founder of Boise-based Vision Air Research.
Fewer deer, fewer coupons
Her company was hired by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to count deer on the public lands. Bernatas and her pilot, Charlie Gay of Tunkhannock, Wyoming County, will fly in grid patterns for about 100 hours over the next three weeks and hope to have the results of what they've found in time for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's April meeting.
"We're hoping to know if we've got a low deer population that's still browsing the habitat, or if we've got a high deer population that's overbrowsing the area, or if we've got a low deer population and that the habitat is starting to recover," said Merlin Benner, a wildlife biologist with the DCNR.
Some hunters are hopeful the flights will confirm their claims that there are fewer deer in the woods than game commission models project. If so, the flights would prove that doe license allocations should be cut back and the hunting season shortened to strengthen the state's herd, the hunters believe.
Work is double-checked
The Deer Management Assistance Program is applied to public lands and qualified private landowners enrolled in one of the game commission's public access programs. Through the program, qualified landowners receive a limited number of coupons that must be made available to hunters, who, in turn, redeem them for a DMAP antlerless deer permit to hunt on the property for which the coupon was issued, according to the game commission.
Bernatas said experience has shown her that she'll be able to count about 83 percent of the wildlife in the areas she surveys. The DCNR will double-check Bernatas' work by having her fly over some areas where deer are enclosed in a pen and comparing those numbers to what Bernatas observes.
"There is no way, ever, unless you nail their little feet to the ground to see all of them," Bernatas said. "There's an equal opportunity for animals to walk in or out of your transect. There's always the potential for missing them or possibly double counting them."

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