Specifics of predatory study still up in air

Bob Frye
| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

Pennsylvania game commissioners and members of their staff have plenty of questions when it comes to predators and what to do about them.

Answers? Those are in shorter supply.

Since April, commissioners have talked about doing a predator study. The idea, they've suggested, would be to see what, if any, impact they are having on deer populations and what might be done about it.

Such a study also would show sportsmen and lawmakers that the agency takes the issue seriously, commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County said.

“I think the perception out there is that we don't care,” agreed commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County.

But specifics are proving hard to come by.

At their work group meeting Monday, commissioners disagreed about whether the study even needs to be done or what questions they want answered.

Chris Rosenberry, chief deer biologist for the agency, offered three options. One would be to do a “bare bones” study examining fawn survival and mortality, looking at how many fawns die each year and what kills them, he said.

Option two builds on that, examining what role habitat plays in whether fawns are more or less likely to survive.

Option three would take things one step further and see how predator densities influence deer deaths.

Cost for the work would range from $125,000 to $355,000 per study area per year, with multiple study areas planned for three years, he said.

Biologists asked board members what they wanted to do.

“We're at the point where we need some guidance,” said Matt Lovallo, head of the game mammals section.

Board members weren't ready to give it.

Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County said the board could not offer a preference for a study proposal or a possible budget until after a “scoping meeting” with other experts from inside and outside the state.

“I'd vote for a study. But I wouldn't even know what I'm voting for” until then, he said.

Others said they believe a study is pointless.

Commissioner Ron Weaner of Adams County said there's no evidence predators are impacting deer on a population scale. That precludes the need for a study that won't change the “public relations problem” surrounding the commission's deer program, he said.

Commissioner Ralph Martone also said he's opposed to spending millions on a study, in large part because it's unlikely the board can or will do anything with any answers it gets.

“First of all, if we find out what's killing these fawns, be it bears or coyotes, what would we really be willing to do? Those are game animals, too,” he said.

Martone also said if the commission wants to save more deer, it should just reduce the number of doe licenses available, something it can do at no cost.

Ultimately, commissioners directed staff to set up the scoping meeting, with the idea of making decisions afterward.

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

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