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New deer and forest study set

| Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

The most controversial wildlife management subject in Pennsylvania is going under the knife again.

Starting this fall, researchers will attempt to hone in on just how much white-tailed deer impact forest regeneration in comparison to things like acidic soil, invasive plants, insects and more. The results could determine if, when and where deer populations may be allowed to climb in coming years.

The work is being carried out by the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, U.S. Geological Survey, Pennsylvania Game Commission and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The work has several objectives.

One is to measure how effective the deer management assistance program is at increasing antlerless deer harvests. Another is to see how hunter behaviors and attitudes change in relation to changing deer populations.

The study goals sure to attract the most attention from deer hunters, though, are the ones aimed at determining how deer impact forests and whether the current system of monitoring those impacts is sensitive enough.

In short, “we want to make sure deer are the problem,” said Game Commission deer biologist Chris Rosenberry.

To do that, researchers will monitor GPS-collared adult bucks and does on four study areas within Bald Eagle, Rothrock and Susquehannock state forests. They'll also monitor what trees and plants are regenerating in the study areas, and in what abundance.

The commission has been examining those things for years, said commission forester Dave Gustafson.

This latest research is an attempt to “evaluate the sensitivity of our measures” and make the program better, he said.

Duane Diefenbach, director of the cooperative fish and wildlife unit, said lowering deer populations a decade ago, cuts maintained since, largely helped the state's forests. But more studies need to be done, he added.

“We've made great progress in the last 10 years. But if you dig down in the weeds, the more palatable species are still struggling,” Diefenbach said. “The question is, is that just deer?”

The Game Commission always knew that deer weren't the only problem, said commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County.

But it had to lower deer numbers while developing a system for measuring impacts.

This latest refinement of that work could make things less “black and white,” though.

“What this study will do is give us more confidence in whether there are too many deer or too few in an area,” Putnam said

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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