deer in a field

White-tailed deer feed in a field.

The village of Port Jefferson on Long Island, N.Y., is considering hiring sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to come in and thin the area's deer herd.

According to an April article in Newsday, the village - which includes a country club - is home to about 500 deer, and residents are getting tired of having their ornamental plantings devoured and of crashing into the deer.

Bringing in the USDA sharpshooters would cost about $50,000 per year for herd control. Port Jefferson has an ordinance banning bowhunting for deer.

Meanwhile, the paper reports, the neighboring village of Belle Terre allowed its residents to bring hunters onto private property to thin deer numbers, and the mayor told Newsday that program has been a success.

The white-tailed deer thrives in suburban areas, where they generally face little or no hunting pressure and can find plenty of places to live in pockets of woods, ditches and manicured yards.

How communities and state wildlife agencies deal with these deer seems to vary widely across the northeast U.S., from steriliziation to sharpshooter culls to hunting.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission often catches heat for its deer management program, with some hunters believing the agency allows too many deer to be shot, while others want to see more trophy bucks, others want to shoot any buck they choose and on and on.

But regardless of the varied opinions on the agency's deer program, the Game Commission deserves credit for its commitment to hunting being the primary management tool when it comes to the state's deer population.

When Valley Forge National Historical Park officials sought permission to bring in sharpshooters to cull deer there in 2011, the Game Commission recommended hunters be given first crack at the problem.

The federal government ultimately opted for the sharpshooters, but the Game Commission did its best to get hunters into the park.

(I spent a lot of time at Valley Forge many years ago and am convinced bowhunters easily could have hunted there without interfering with other park users and thinned the deer herd. And hunters probably even would have paid for that opportunity, as opposed to taxpayers pitching in about $3 million for the sharpshooting program over 15 years.)

There will be situations where too many deer get into an area where hunting just isn't feasible. Airports are one example of that.

You can't have deer wandering onto active runways, nor can you allow hunters to try shooting them while airplanes are taking off and landing.

At their July 23 meeting, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners voted to make sure that when certain groups ask the Game Commission for permits to thin deer herds in Pennsylvania, that they must first prove that hunting was tried and proven to be ineffective.

"Political subdivisions, homeowners associations and nonprofit land-holding organizations are eligible to apply for (deer control) permits, and these groups are required to use public hunting as a management tool to be considered for a permit," a news release announcing the new rule states.

To prove they tried hunting, applicants have to provide the Game Commission with the names and hunting license numbers of hunters given access to the land, as well as reports on the hunting activity.

"The change requires them to report hunting activities on their properties in detail, verifying that hunters indeed had the first chance at helping to address deer problems," the news release states.

As more and more land is developed in Pennsylvania, this rule change will be important for preserving a future for hunting in certain areas.

A neighborhood association in eastern Chester County, for example, won't be able to simply ban hunting, but hire sharpshooters to take care of deer problems. They will first have to look to hunters for relief.

Last year, the Game Commission gave deer control permits to 10 organizations in different parts of the state. None was in Lancaster County. The number of deer killed under those permits was not immediately available last week.

According to Chad Eyler, who organizes the permitting program for the Game Commission, those 10 groups had to submit plans to the agency outlining the extent of their deer problems. They also had to define all measures employed to try to mitigate the problems prior to seeking control permits.

The old rules required applicants to describe if public hunting was tried, but it didn't require them to try it. The new rule does.


In other news from the Game Commission's most recent meeting, the agency officially dissolved one of the state's three remaining wild pheasant restoration areas (WPRA).

The Hegins-Gratz WPRA was established by the Game Commission in Schyulkill and Dauphin counties in 2010.

In 2011, 300 wild pheasants trapped in the western U.S. were released into the area in hopes they would establish a wild population there, and general pheasant hunting in the area was banned.

The birds didn't prosper, and biologists don't believe more time will improve the situation.

By dissolving the WPRA, that area now can be opened up to regular pheasant stockings by the Game Commission and to normal hunting activities.

That leaves two WRPAs in Pennsylvania - the Central Susquehanna WPRA in Northumberland, Montour and Columbia counties and the Franklin County WPRA.