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Deer hearing in Harrisburg draws emotion

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 6:42 p.m.

HARRISBURG — This was to be expected, really.

Six bills that would change how deer are managed in Pennsylvania have been introduced in the state House of Representatives and referred to the House's game and fisheries committee for review.

That committee held a hearing on the bills at the Capitol on Wednesday. It played out in front of a room filled to capacity with lawmakers and hunters.

None of that surprised Rep. Martin Causer (R-Potter County), the committee chairman.

“I can tell you that, as legislators, deer management is probably the one topic we hear the most about from our constituents. At least I do,” Causer said.

What they're hearing is that there's a lot of unhappiness out there, said Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks County). Sportsmen don't believe their concerns are being heard, he said.

“The sportsmen out there feel like they're lost,” Maloney said.

The commission is aware some hunters are upset, largely over what they perceive as too small of a deer herd, said Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. That's not unusual, he said. Hunters expressed the same concerns in the 1990s, even as deer populations were increasing, he said.

The reality is, while populations can vary across areas, deer harvests and hunter success rates have remained steady for about two decades, DuBrock said.

“We couldn't do that if we were running the deer herd into the ground,” he said.

There are a lot of people satisfied with the state's deer management program, he added, citing surveys of hunters and state residents.

Rep. Joe Emrick (R-Northampton County) took exception to that, citing a commission-sponsored telephone survey of Pennsylvania residents selected at random. A survey that asks people who don't hunt about deer management, then weighs their responses equally with those of hunters, is “absurd” and “embarrassing,” Emrick said.

“Who are the experts? The hunters are the experts,” he said.

Two sportsmen's groups also offered testimony. Randy Santucci of Pittsburgh, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, voiced support for all of the bills before the committee save for House Resolution 576, which urges the commission to investigate the possibility of opening the state's firearms deer season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving rather than the following Monday.

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

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