Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Deer-Forest Study Proves You Don’t Need Thumbs To Text

Text messages sent to and from GPS collars allow researchers to monitor deer movements.

          Proof that texting is here to stay – deer in parts of Pennsylvania have their own texting plans.
          As part of the Deer-Forest Study, a cooperative research project being conducted by the Game Commission and a host of other partners, several deer in Pennsylvania are wearing GPS radio collars that can be controlled via text messages. 
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          Short text messages are sent from the collar to researchers, and vice versa, to instantly record the location of collared deer and allow researchers to learn more about deer movements and behavior, particularly in relation to hunting.
          Over the years, the Game Commission has placed collars on thousands of Pennsylvania deer. Through such monitoring, researchers have learned things such as 70 percent of yearling bucks will disperse miles from where they were born, and have better understood harvest rates of antlered and antlerless deer during the hunting seasons.
          But the new texting collars provide innovative and exciting opportunities, said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section. The collars monitor deer behavior across large areas at all times of the day, Rosenberry said.
          Collecting this much location data wouldn’t be possible with regular radio collars, he said.
          “With these new GPS collars, we can track a deer’s movements every 20 minutes during the two weeks of the firearms season,” Rosenberry said.  “There just wouldn’t be enough time, money or equipment to collect this much information using technicians and regular radio collars. And the GPS collars also will provide better deer location data to learn about fine-scale deer movements throughout the year and especially during the hunting seasons.”
          Because the study looks at deer in relation to hunting, it can’t be completed without cooperation from hunters.
          The study areas within Bald Eagle State Forest in Centre, Union and Snyder counties; Rothrock State Forest in Centre, Mifflin and Huntingdon counties; and Susquehannock State Forest in Potter County all are marked with signs at parking lots and along roads. And those hunting the study areas are asked to register and report their experiences to the Game Commission.
          Hunters can register by visiting the white-tailed deer page at the Game Commission’s website, then clicking on the “Deer-Forest Study” link in the “Research and Surveys” category.
          After deer season concludes, hunters will be mailed a survey to record their hunting success and experiences. Individual surveys will remain confidential. Only summary information will be provided to the public.
          Rosenberry said input from hunters using the study areas is critical to the success of the study.
          “Without hunters registering and telling us about their hunting experiences, we will not be able to completely assess deer-hunter interactions,” he said.
          Exploring how deer respond to hunting pressure, and how their behavior affects hunter experiences and opinions, is one objective of the Deer-Forest Study. The study also looks at the impact deer have on forest regeneration, a phenomenon that has been studied for decades but now can be measured at a higher level of detail.
          The study is being conducted in partnership by the Game Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania State University and U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. It sets out to answer a simple question – Can we do better when it comes to monitoring forest health, one of many factors taken into consideration when making deer-management decisions?
          Forests are important to deer, providing vital food and cover. And as primary consumers of forests plants, deer impact forest health.
          But their browsing in the forest understory often makes deer an easy target when it comes to assigning blame for lagging forest regeneration – even when other factors could be responsible. 
          The new study will help ensure that, in cases where deer aren’t responsible for lagging regeneration, they won’t be blamed for it.
          “Recommendations to adjust deer populations never are taken lightly,” Rosenberry said. “And this study is designed to strengthen the data we use in making our annual recommendations to either increase, decrease or hold steady deer populations in a given area.” 
          More information about the Deer-Forest Study is available online at the Game Commission’s website,

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