HARRISBURG – Neither the proponents nor the opponents of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's ongoing Deer Management Plan knew for certain what the findings of the long-awaited research project conducted by the Wildlife Management Institute.
Titled "The Deer Management Program of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, A Comprehensive Review and Evaluation," which – if no other reason – is why the study is simply referred to as the "deer audit."
This study was ordered by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, and it was the responsibility of WMI, an independent research organization that was once headquartered in Washington, D.C., but now operates out of field offices throughout the country, to investigate every aspect of deer management by the PGC.
What WMI found is that while there are pockets of low deer density across the state, the PGC is conducting an overall sound management plan of the statewide deer herd.
According to the WMI deer audit, Pennsylvania's statewide deer population is between 870,000-1,000,000, and that while the size of the PGC's Wildlife Management Units are often maligned, the audit states their size represents a good compromise in providing solid data.
Although the audit supports the overall goals and mission of the PGC management plan, it states there are areas where it can be improved. These findings are welcomed by PGC executive director Carl Roe.
"We believe it was a thorough review of our program and we appreciate the constructive criticism," Roe said. "We welcome the conclusion that the overall scientific foundation of the Game Commission's deer management system is sound, and that the design of the current Wildlife Management Units reflect a necessary compromise between the various needs.
"The report also provides some opportunities to improve our deer management program. Some of the recommendations we can address easily, but some will require additional resources to be able to implement."
WMI vice president Scot Williamson said that between 2005-07 the state's deer population was reduced by 25 percent and that the PGC has continued in its attempted to stabilize the deer population.
"We believe it was a thorough review of our program and we appreciate the constructive criticism," Roe said.
"We welcome the conclusion that the overall scientific foundation of the Game Commission's deer management system is sound, and that the design of the current Wildlife Management Units reflect a necessary compromise between the various needs."
Biologist Chris Rosenberry, PGC deer management supervisor, said he and his team concurs with the findings of the audit that indicate the agency has implemented a deer management program that is consistent with its mandates through structured public involvement and scientific data collection methods.
"As with any complex undertaking, such as a statewide deer program, room for improvement exists," Rosenberry said.
"In the past, the Game Commission has actively sought peer reviews of various components of our deer program, conducted research and analyses to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and implemented changes when warranted, and the recommendations from this audit will be treated in a similar manner.
"We appreciate the thoroughness of this review and evaluation of our deer program, and this audit identified current strengths and areas for improvement within the deer management program.
As with previous peer-reviews, the Game Commission will use these findings and recommendations to improve its deer management program where possible."
WMI was established in 1911 by sportsmen and businessmen who were concerned about the dramatic declines of many wildlife populations.
Its founders saw need for a small, independent and aggressive organization dedicated to restoring and ensuring the well-being of wild populations and their habitats.
Although methods of operation have changed since its inception, the wildlife conservation objectives of WMI remain essentially the same. It remains a small, mobile, private, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization that works mostly on requests from federal and provincial agencies, Congress, college researchers and educators, other private conservation organizations and professional associations.
A complete copy of the Wildlife Management Institute audit of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Deer Management Plan is available by accessing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee Web site at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/ . Open the report by clicking on "Reports Released" in the left-hand column and scroll down to the "Game and Fisheries" section.