I read an article this morning in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about an area of Pennsylvania, Raystown Lake Recreation Area, that has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce an overblown whitetail deer population of about 60-80 per square mile down to something considered normal – perhaps 15ish per square mile.

If you are at all familiar with Pennsylvania deer hunting, you know a controversy has been brewing there for some time over the fish and wildlife’s efforts to reduce deer herds statewide. This in turn, has angered some hunters who have complained that now there aren’t enough deer left to hunt. Others are pleased with the results so far saying the deer they are seeing are bigger and healthier.

As we have heard time and again during the debate over the deer management system being employed, too many deer has resulted in a basic deforestation of the land, much of this the very necessary food needed to sustain deer populations. Landowners have complained that too many deer are destroying their forests.

This evidently is the same problem taking place in the Raystown Lake Recreation Area, so with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they went to work to reduce the deer numbers. It now appears that after about 10 years of work, the deer density in the area is around 15 per square mile. Jeff Krause, a wildlife biologist with the Corps, says that even though there are fewer deer, hunters are still taking a lot of deer.

I don’t have a problem with this and it sounds as if the forest is regenerating and the remaining deer are quite healthy. What puzzles me though are comments made about what the future looks like after the reduction.

The management plan for Raystown calls for sustaining the deer population at current levels – about 15 per square mile. Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Russ Schleiden of Centre County, told Jeff Krause at a meeting recently that with the regenerated habitat, it would mean it can support more deer in the future.

“I think what you’re saying is that once we get the herd to where it needs to be, and the habitat starts to recover, the deer herd will rebound, too. That’s something your data shows, and it’s something commissioners have been saying all along,”

Does anybody else find this statement a bit confusing? I don’t have all the details obviously but if the 10-year effort was to reduce the deer population to 15 per square mile, a number that many wildlife biologists would consider reasonable, in order to regrow the forest and sustain a healthier deer population, why are they looking to rebuild it?

Schleiden says that the Corps’ data supports the theory that reducing the herd allows the forest to regrow, which in turn provides better habitat for the deer. Now that the population density is reduced to 15 per square mile, the Corp is saying they will work to maintain that level yet, Schleiden is indicating the Commission should let the deer numbers increase again.

Not knowing Schleiden’s position on the current Pennsylvania deer management program, I could assume that what he is saying is that the program will not work because reducing numbers allows the forest to regenerate which in turn allows the population to flourish which brings us back to the same problem the state faced prior to implementation of the deer management plan.

If that’s true, isn’t that a bit like the same theory that animal rights groups use against the use of hunting as a management tool, one that reduces deer populations? They say that killing off deer causes them to reproduce more and therefore hunting is counterproductive.

I just find Schleiden’s comments confusing and I don’t understand the real point he is trying to make. Perhaps he’s referring to a very general “rebound” of the deer population statewide, which in turn will provide more hunting opportunities for hunters.

Tom Remington

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