Hunters unload over deer policies

The owner of a sporting goods store said the economic impact of the program has been quite significant.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- Unhappy deer hunters packing an auditorium earlier this week told the Pennsylvania Game Commission that a five-year effort to control the size of the state's deer herd has worked too well, causing overkill that makes their quarry too hard to come by.
"I'm really fed up and everybody I talk to is very fed up," said Lebanon County hunter Paul Garman, echoing many others who spoke at the commission's annual public-input hearing. "Carrying that rifle around like a dummy and not seeing nothing -- it's getting bad."
The hearing at the commission's headquarters in Harrisburg was held in advance of a preliminary vote to schedule the 2005-06 seasons and set bag limits. Many hunters who spoke urged the panel to issue fewer doe hunting licenses and to shorten the season.
Phil Wagner said the deer shortage in Union County has become so acute that if the policies are not reversed, hunters may boycott license sales next year in an effort to bankrupt the commission.
"We have the support of the sportsmen of the state," he said. "Don't force our hand."
Somerset County hunter Gregory A. Gerhard said allowing more does to be taken has proven to be a mistake.
"If you have any compassion for our white-tailed deer population, you will not let the tree-huggers take over our great state," Gerhard said.
Economic impact
A survey of fellow taxidermists showed a 50 percent drop this year in the number of deer heads being processed, said Joe Walter, who owns a Centre County sporting goods store. Others reported that their local butchers also have experienced a decline in business.
"The economic impact of this program has been quite significant," Walter said.
Starting in 2000-01, the commission has adopted a series of policies designed to reduce the number of deer in Pennsylvania, a herd currently estimated at 1.6 million. A record number of deer were killed two seasons ago, followed by a drop-off last season. Figures for the current season, which ends Jan. 29, will not be released until mid-March.
A study released earlier this month by Audubon Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance concluded that overgrazing by deer was damaging to other wildlife that depend on undergrowth for sustenance and cover.
The commission's chief deer biologist, Gary Alt, said when he unexpectedly retired in late December that the agency was not supporting the deer management changes he had overseen.
At the meeting, not everyone agreed that the policies should be reversed. Several people said restrictions on killing male deer with small antlers have increased the number of large trophy bucks, and farmers thanked the commission for helping them control crop damage.
"Use good science when making your decisions, and not the opinions of a few shortsighted individuals," said forester Mike Hancharick of Kane.
Lower kill numbers during the current season are in part a function of weather patterns, said Steve Trupe, with the Quality Deer Management Association, a group that aims to balance deer population with habitat sustainability.
"The deer adapted to the circumstances, the hunters didn't. It's that simple," Trupe said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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