Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pennsylvania Deer Wars: Should The Cougar Be Re-introduced?

Fawn Nursing, July 2005
 I have mentioned the Pennsylvania Deer Wars in several posts, but have not actually given a definition of them to date, as I assume that most readers are aware as to the issues involved, but for those that are not I will explain in a grossly oversimplified manner. (I hope to expound on this in much greater detail in the future)

One camp contends that there are too many deer in Pennsylvania for the natural habitat to support. This results in over-browsing by deer, which destroys many species of trees, wildflowers and other plants that are essential for food and cover for both deer and many other species of wildlife. In short, too many deer destroys the habitat and causes populations of competing species to decline.

The other camp insists that the deer herd has been reduced too much by a herd reduction program which began with the appointment of Dr. Gary Alt as head of Pennsylvania's deer program in 1999. Alt's program featured concurrent buck and doe seasons, an October blackpowder and Jr., Sr. citizens antlerless deer season, along with antler restrictions. Some contend that the program has impacted deer numbers so severely that Pennsylvania deer hunting has been destroyed.

In light of this, it was interesting to read a letter to the editor In the April 2, 2011 edition of "Endeavor News" (the full article is available to be read by the general public in two weeks) .  Entitled "Nature Out Of Balance", it is by Christopher Spatz, President of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation. This was in reference to a recent announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the Eastern Cougar is officially extinct. (To see the NFWS release in its' entirety, click Here.)

Spatz makes the case that,"the extinction of the cougar has tolled a death-knell for eastern ecosystems". He goes on to say, "The cougar’s extermination in the East imperils the habitat of animals such as the endangered Karner Blue butterfly and the declining New England cottontail rabbit because of overbrowsing by superabundant whitetailed deer. Many plant species, including trilliums, lady’s slippers and wild American ginseng, are at risk from uncontrolled deer herbivory that threatens forest regeneration, rare plants and habitat for wildlife.

The potential collapse of our restored deciduous forests is the biggest underreported ecological crisis developing in the eastern third of the country. Step into your nearest woodlot, state or national forest. Notice the deer browse-line five-feet high, the missing seedlings and saplings, the carpets of ferns and invasive weeds that suppress tree-growth. Our forests are standing graveyards."

From there he goes on to make a case for the re-introduction of the cougar in the east. I can't help but wonder how the deer oriented members of the outdoor community are going to react to this one, if this letter is widely disseminated, and he has likely sent it to a lot of newspapers.

From reading this letter, it sounds as though the woods is over ran with deer and no one is doing anything about it, yet according to the Pennsylvania Game Commissions figures, 316,240 deer were harvested in the 2010-11 seasons (PGC News Release #031-11).  There is also no mention of the toll that black bears and coyotes have on fawn populations,or the impact of animals killed illegaly yet the re-introduction of the cougar is needed to save the forest!

Coyotes Impact Whitetail Deer Populations
Black Bears Also Contribute To Fawn Mortality
Illegal Killing Of Deer Further Decimates Populations
 It is likely that the letter is of necessity a greatly condensed version of the organization's position, but after reading it I can't help but wonder if they have any comprehension of the politics of wildlife management in Pennsylvania, or the attitude of many if not most rural residents toward a cougar reintroduction.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Anonymous said...

I liked all of your pictures, except the last one. That one made me sad; it is hard to look at.

Willard said...

It is hard to look at, but unfortunately that is often what we had to deal with when we worked for the PGC. I am conflicted about showing such pictures, but sometimes I do to drive the point home of what it is really like out there at times, and that a certain class of person thinks it is acceptable behavior to do something like this.

Brad Myers said...

I have always been amazed that the PGC could say that the deer population is so high and that we must do something about.

I believe you know the area a little that I used to hunt, Letterkeyy Twp. Franklin County in Horse Valley. As a kid I remember always seeing 45-50 deer. By the time I quit hunting in 1988 you were luckt to see a few deer each day out. My family still walks the guns during deer season (they have no intentions of shooting anything) and they were hard pressed to see ten deer in the two weeks.

In my area of Cumberland County I see more deer each day than I have in years. With all the construction the deer are getting pushed around and ending up in small patches of woods close to neighborhoods with no place to go. They are trapped in by roads, house and people.

I am no where close the authority that you are Willard but I do not see an over population of the whitetail at least in Cumbewrland and Franklin Counties. In all the trips north I see very few deer.

Thanks for the great article again Willard.

Lady Hunter said...

I realize this is a fairly old article however I can't help but to base my opinion! I live in south eastern PA and have traveled may parts of PA. We certainly don't have any abundance of deer in our area however if we did...then why introduce cougers (wth...really?) Why not have a more liberal bag limit. I do NOT condone illegal deer harvest but with PA having such strict and limited bag limits I am not surprised! I am a PA resident however I no longer purchase a PA license instead I purchase a non resident MD liscense simply bc I like to be able to bag enough deer to get my family through the year. As we prefer deer for health benefits. Md has a rather liberal bag limit per season (maybe a little too liberal in the counties I usually hunt) but aside from filling my freezer I love hunting and don't like being tagged out after 1-2 deer. I didn't read the article but curious to know if the writer realizes how strict and rather limited PA bag limits are...why not give hunters more oppertunities to hunt (which has many benefits)why cougers?

Also I might add I have friends who tag out in pa and beg for us to shoot them a deer so that they can fill their freezer... I really have to read this article bc im in a rage at that idea the more i think about it I continue to come up with reason why that is a bad idea and allowing hunters to benefit from so called over population which i havent noticed.

Lady Hunter said...

Also wanted to add the the declining population of rabbit...has alot to do with an overpopulation of red tailed hawks( which are a protected species) in this area.