Monday’s Pennsylvania Game Commission meeting brought out testimony related to white-tailed deer.
Shocking, I know.
In this case, it centered around the commission’s deer management assistance program. DMAP, as it’s known, lets landowners – public or private — apply for extra antlerless deer licenses good for their property only. It’s meant to give them a say in managing deer on their lands.
The program has drawn complaints from hunters upset about its use on state forest lands.
As a result, commissioners on Tuesday are set to vote on a proposal that would let them award fewer permits than program guidelines call for, to account for “social” considerations, while setting the maximum size of a DMAP unit at 15,000 acres. Right now there’s no size restriction.
Brad Nelson, spokesman for the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative, a mix of public and private landowners in northwestern Pennsylvania, and Chris Plank, assistant state forester with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, both urged commissioners to back away from those changes.
Plank said “forests and deer management are inextricably linked.”
Foresters decide which areas to enroll in the deer management assistance program, and how many permits to seek, based on scientific evidence collected using protocols developed with guidance from the commission’s own professional staff, he added. He further suggested that’s worked.
The program leads to relatively few deer killed overall – 1,766 last year, according to the commission — but has a lot of forest areas “on the edge” of seeing habitat improvements and recovery, Plank said.
“To see us lose those gains would set us back,” he argued.
Nelson said setting a maximum size on DMAP units would hurt, too. Right now, the cooperative manages its land by dividing it into three parcels. It would have to break two of those up, he said. What’s more, between cooperative lands and adjacent Allegheny National Forest lands, the number of DMAP units would have to increase from six to 20.
That would not only create a lot more paperwork, but leave hunters on the ground without easily identifiable boundaries, Nelson added.
And for what, Nelson asked?
DMAP decisions are best left to landowners working on the property level, he said. That’s why the cooperative “strongly opposes” the rules changes up for consideration.
Commission president Dave Putnam called the cooperative the “poster child” for how to use DMAP properly. But he also hinted that the board is likely to give preliminary approval to the DMAP changes Tuesday, despite the concerns aired.
At the same time, though, he added that the situation remains “fluid.”
The board will continue meeting with bureau of forestry officials and even tour the Kinzua Cooperative lands in an ongoing effort to see what improvements, if any, can be made to the program.