Deer, Bear … And More

Sunday hunting, endangered species and coyote bounties were just a few of the issues.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe spoke with journalists from across the state Friday during a Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association teleconference to discuss some of the issues of the day.

Roe spoke about the deer herd, habitat studies, and the possible impacts of several bills under consideration in the state legislature.

“Hunting and trapping is how we manage wildlife throughout the commonwealth,” Roe said. “As good as nature is, nothing beats a Pennsylvania hunter in the woods going after wildlife. Without hunters, deer are pretty prolific and we would have a deer-human conflict issue across the commonwealth.”

He said the agency has managed the deer herd for stability for years, not issuing more antlerless licenses since 2005. Forest regeneration is on a slow, but steady, rise in most areas.

Some of the anecdotal evidence that suggests forest regeneration is hunters complaining that they can’t see as far through the forests as they once could.

The commission is encouraged that its efforts are working and plans to keep them up.

“We’re going to try to keep the deer herd balanced to the habitat that’s there,” Roe said.

A disease that is new to Pennsylvania’s herd is having an impact.

While Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a familiar problem that “we’re going to learn to live with,” Roe said EHD – Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease – could strike a quick blow to areas of the deer herd.

Southern deer have developed a resistance to the disease. Deer in Pennsylvania have not.

“EHD in the local deer herd is really a concern,” Roe said. “EHD has an immediate effect on the local deer population.”

There is no current vaccination nor cure. However, “the midge that brings it dies on the first frost,” Roe said.

The bear population is quite healthy.

“We’ve got plenty of bear,” Roe said. “Bears are some of my favorite creatures.”

That said, there are enough bear that a good hunting season would not be a bad thing. “If we broke the record again this year for harvest, it wouldn’t break my heart,” he said.

There are many hunting and trapping proposals in the state House and Senate.

Roe explained that there is a “cumulative effect” when only a few of as many as 100 bills are passed. The remainder are generally important to at least one legislator and are brought back year after year.

Endangered species

The Endangered Species Coordination Act in the House and a similar bill in the Senate would remove the authority of the Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to determine and list threatened and endangered species.

“We have our own process,” Roe said. The commission’s Independent Regulatory Review Committee (IRRC) makes the final decision.

Under the ESCA, a separate IRRC answering to the legislature would review the commission IRRC’s decision and rule on it.

“It smacks of big government to have an IRRC’s regulations reviewed by another IRRC,” Roe said of the proposal. “We provided testimony twice. We clearly don’t favor the bill. It elongates the process… of being able to name a threatened or endangered species.

The position of the commission has not prevented the bill from moving forward. “There’s a chance it may get to the floor this coming week,” Roe said.

“Redundancy in government slows the process down… with no value added,” he said.

Sunday hunting

“There’s some legislation proposed right now to allow some commercial hunting to happen” on Sundays, Roe said.

However, for the average hunter, Sunday hunting is not right around the corner.

“General, I don’t see that happening in the near future,” Roe said.

A 2011 effort to permit Sunday hunting did not succeed. “The largest opponent was the Farm Bureau,” he said. “It will take a while before the legislature will tackle that one again.”

Coyote bounties

One of the bills under consideration in the House would allow, but not require, the commission to offer bounties for coyotes.

“We don’t see it being a state-wide program, ever,” Roe said. Rather, the commission could use it to “tackle a local situation.”

“If we establish a program, we could set aside $700,000,” he said. That number was derived from multiplying the $25 bounty by the estimated 28,000 coyotes harvested each year according to hunting and trapping surveys.

Pennsylvania is not the first to consider a bounty program.

“Other states have tried bounties and they have all failed,” he said. The costs outweighed the benefits and it was difficult to prevent fraud – “How do I know the coyote wasn’t killed in New York?”

But the program would provide a possible remedy if there is ever a serious coyote problem. “If we decide to do something, we would have the authority to set the money aside,” Roe said.

Elk license raffle

Elk licenses for both resident and non-resident hunters are allotted by a single raffle.

A bill that has passed the House and is before the Senate’s game and fisheries committee would provide one elk hunting license available by raffle only to residents of the elk management area.

Dogs and large game

One proposal would allow the limited use of dogs in large game hunting.

“As far as the use of dogs… that’s a blood-tracking dog,” Roe said. “In the strictest sense of the law, hunting includes the recovery of game.”

But the use of the dog would be limited, according to the law, to tracking an “animal that’s been shot and the hunter has not been able to find,” Roe said. Beyond that “we don’t like the idea of using dogs to hunt” big game.