Call it a "good start."
Although it will have no immediate impact on deer hunters who hunt locally, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has initiated a study to improve its deer management program.
This fall the PGC is conducting "The Deer-Forest Study" in designated areas located within Bald Eagle, Rothrock and Susquehannock state forests on properties enrolled in the state's Deer Management Assistance Program. Study areas are marked with signs in parking lots and along roads, and hunters must register when hunting these study areas by visiting the whitetail deer page at the PGC website, then clicking on the "Deer-Forest Study" link in the "Research and Surveys" category.
PGC deer biologist Chris Rosenberry said this study represents the next step in improving the deer program, but the study depends on hunters participating for its to be completed. Those hunting in the areas being studied will provide critical input, and after deer season concludes they will be mailed a survey to record their hunting success and experiences.
Individual surveys will remain confidential. Only summary information will be provided as public information.
"Understanding hunter effort, hunter success rates, deer harvests and hunter opinions and observations is a critical part of the study," Rosenberry said. "We are relying on hunters to provide these important data by registering."
Forests provide food and cover for deer and other wildlife, and deer, as primary consumers of forest plants, can impact forest health and, thus, their own habitat and habitat for other wildlife. This deer-forest connection is strong, and for decades the PGC has studied the relationship between deer and the forests in which they live and used those and other findings in its deer-management decisions.
As the years progressed, the methods used to measure forest health became more sophisticated. A higher level of detail on factors affecting tree regeneration became available as a result.
Today, the data the PGC uses in determining forest health represents the best ever available, however, no monitoring system is perfect. As a result, the agency and its research partners have begun this study which they believe will allow them to do a better job.
Joining the PGC as partners in this study are the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Pennsylvania State University. Recently, the U.S. Geological Survey's Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit launched a new study into the impacts deer have on forest regeneration, and the current methods used to evaluate those impacts.
In the field, forest regeneration data, deer impacts, deer populations and forest-management practices will be monitored. In addition, hunters will be surveyed to gather information on their activities while hunting the study areas.
"A primary concern and consideration for the Game Commission is that the data we use accurately reflect the effects of deer on forests," Rosenberry said. "Deer are not the only factor affecting forest regeneration, but our assessment of deer impacts on forests is the most important habitat measure used in deer-management recommendations."
Rosenberry said evaluating the role of deer in forest regeneration, as measured by the deer-impact assessment, and making responsible adjustments, will benefit hunters in a number of ways. This study will provide new insight into the effect of deer on forest regeneration.
Given their browsing in the forest understory, deer often are an easy target when it comes to lagging forest regeneration, but they are not the only factor, and Rosenberry said the study will help to ensure that misplaced blame is not placed on deer in cases where they are not at fault of slowed regeneration. A better understanding of deer impacts in real-world conditions in Pennsylvania also will help ensure that any recommendations to reduce deer populations due to forest impacts are truly necessary.
"Recommendations to reduce deer populations are not taken lightly," Rosenberry said. "And this study is designed to strengthen the data upon which future recommendations are based."
More information about the Deer-Forest Study is available online at the PGC website at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/.