Thursday, November 1, 2012

Twilight Buck and More Thoughts on SNP Whitetail Management

Pennsylvania Buck At Twilight: Canon 5D MK III -Canon 500mmf4-ISO 6400 1/40sec. f4
The rut is picking up here in southcentral Pennsylvania, but many of the bucks are seen either very early or extremely late.  These conditions put the low light capability of the MK III to the test.  Even the larger bucks in our area cannot ordinarily compete with those in Shenandoah National Park when it comes to antler mass and they are definitely a lot harder to see.  With that being said, it is possible that I will be spending less time than ever in Shenandoah National Park since many of the bucks at Big Meadows have been fitted with radio collars.

My last two posts have dealt with this in depth and Todd Mann, another wildlife photographer from Pennsylvania recently wrote an excellent post about the situation titled, "Deer contraception, politics, and the future of deer in the US".  Be sure to visit Todd's blog and read this timely article.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shenandoah Whitetails Under Assault Part 2

While I appreciate most wildlife and spend countless hours afield in pursuit of it with a camera, I am more fascinated by whitetail deer and elk than any of the other species.  Even though I am primarily noted for my interest in Pennsylvania Elk, if it came right down to it I would have to choose deer over elk, if I had to pick one favorite species.  Whitetails have always been a heavily hunted species in Pennsylvania and there are no areas of public land that I know of where one can easily observe whitetails going about their daily life without fleeing at the sight of humans.  It is my understanding that one could see this at one time at Gettysburg National Military Park, or at Valley Forge, but both have utilized sharpshooters to reduce the herd.  I cannot speak from personal experience, but I am told that neither area is what it once was for seeing deer.

Shenandoah National Park has been a special place to so many of us because of its' easily visible deer herd. Since I worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission for many years, I have always been finely attuned to deer management issues, which translated into concern that in time the herd reduction people would focus their attention on the deer of SNP and attempt to manage its' deer herd.. As I mentioned in the previous post, a study is now underway which is being portrayed as part of a plan to protect the deer from CWD, but many are concerned that it is more than this.

As a result of the study, several of the deer in the big meadows area have been fitted with radio collars, and/ or ear tags. Billie Cromwell was at the park last week and photographed three bucks fitted with the radio collars.  He stopped by yesterday and dropped off 4x6 prints of them, so the photos for today are scans of the photos.  They do not do justice to the originals, but they effectively show the problem and will give those who follow the SNP deer herd a look at three of the bucks that had collars as of early last week and may still be found in the Big Meadows area. I wish to thank Billie for sharing these photographs with us and granting permission to use them on the blog.

Mature Buck With Collar Big Meadows Campground: Photo by Billie G. Cromwell
Buck Near Tanners Ridge Overlook: Photo by Billie G. Cromwell
Ten Point Buck With Collar SNP: Photo by Billie G. Cromwell
I was pleased to receive a comment on the previous post from well known wildlife photographer, Jim Fields, who lives in the area and has spent countless hours afield in the park observing and photographing the deer.  Here is what Jim has to say about the situation.

"The secretive way this assessment was handled and the fact they have concentrated their efforts in an area with a high habituated deer concentration instead of distributing the test throughout the entire park certainly leads us to believe there is more to this than a CWD assessment. There are SNP documents from past years that elude to other purposes for 38 deer being captured in Big Meadows out of the 70 being tested in total.

The SNP site does not have up to date information on current status of Big meadows. To date I have found (7) collared bucks in the Greater Big Meadows area. Park officials have informed me that “bucks collared in the Big Meadows area will likely be nine (plus one ear-tagged buck)”. Thus (18) collared deer and (20) deer with ear tags just in the greater Big Meadows area. The parks estimate is 20-25 bucks reside in this area so this give you an idea of the percentage of bucks remaining. I can tell you that in the past 5 weeks I have seen very few bucks without collars in Big Meadows. I am sure there will be less habituated bucks showing up during the November rut, but it will not be like years past. This has been a tuff hit for wildlife photography in the park." --Jim Fields 10/29/2012.

Also be sure to read the full comment by professional wildlife photographer, Tom  who expresses concerns that the National Park Service may be doing this to discourage photographers.  I will post a bit of it below, but be sure and visit the comments on the previous post to read it in its entirety.

"I suspect that the purpose may be that they want to discourage photographers from constantly hanging around the deer with their cameras. They may just think that if they put huge, obtrusive collars on the biggest bucks, then photographers will not pursue the deer so persistently. If that is the reason, or part of the reason, they the NPS should be ashamed of themselves."

Tom goes on to say, " I will get every image I possibly can, fully documenting the collared bucks and the impacts of the "study".

Whatever the reason for the study, it is sad to see so many of the Big Meadows herd fitted with the collars and tags.  The next few weeks will tell what the short term impact on deer watching and photography will be.  I for one hope that this is not the beginning of a program to drastically reduce the SNP deer herd as was done at Gettysburg and Valley Forge.  This would effectively destroy SNP as a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers.

Originally published by Willard Hill at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.