Sunday, December 29, 2013

Allegheny County Late Deer Season Rule Change Sparks Debate

The note received by state Game Commission board president Robert Schlemmer was sincere and gracious:
"I want to thank you for changing the game rules surrounding the 2B extended season," it read. "My wife and I ... live in a heavily hunted area of Washington Township and this should ease the pressure a lot. Thank you for thinking of landowners."

Charged with protecting the varied and sometimes conflicting interests of hunters, landowners, businesses, wildlife and other stakeholders in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties, board president Schlemmer of Export said the April vote to change the boundaries of the antlerless deer extended firearms season in Wildlife Management Unit 2B and other urban areas was, like many of the board's decisions, "a balancing act."

Under the new rule, hunting antlerless deer with slug guns during the Dec. 26-Jan. 25 season remains legal. Portions of 2B that lie outside of Allegheny County -- including parts of Beaver, Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties -- are closed to hunting with regular firearms during the late season. Parts of Allegheny that lie within WMU 2A -- near Clinton and Imperial -- are open for hunting with regular firearms. The regulation change does not impact the Dec. 26-Jan. 11 statewide antlered and antlerless archery hunt and its Jan. 13-25 2B extension, or the Dec. 26-Jan. 25 antlered and antlerless flintlock season in 2B. The special regulation barring the use of centerfire rifles in Allegheny County applies.

County-based boundaries, not WMUs, are to be used for the same hunting season in highly populated Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
"What typically happens is we have a lot of antlerless allocations in 2B, and folks have been taking them from Allegheny County into the peripheral area," said Schlemmer, who worked for three years to get the rule passed. "It's a social issue, something that's important to landowners outside of Allegheny County. This is another tool we have to work with."

But many hunters and the Game Commission's divisions of enforcement and wildlife management don't see it that way.

At a Dec. 16 commission working meeting in Harrisburg, Bureau of Wildlife Management director Cal DuBrock said the controversial rule change does not meet with the agency's wildlife management objectives and urged the board to reconsider.

"Establishment of the post-Christmas deer firearm season based on counties actually contradicts the purpose of having WMUs," he said. "I think the issue [of county boundaries versus WMU boundaries] has never closed. ... People seem to be confused about where the boundaries are. Where can I hunt? Why don't we designate special regulations areas by WMUs? We've got a dynamic system. We've got to revisit and look at these issues."
DuBrock told the board that anecdotal accounts of heavy post-Christmas hunting pressure in the peripheries of urban deer management areas including 2B are not supported by evidence.

"One of the statistics we looked at in 5C -- Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties -- [showed] 54 percent of the WMU is where 56 percent of the harvest came from," he said. "So, we hear that people are taking these [doe] tags outside of Allegheny County and harvesting, but the statistics, the data we have on where the harvest occurs, doesn't support that."

Some hunters questioned why a rule change was needed. Couldn't landowners in 2B areas outside of Allegheny County simply post their properties during the late season?
Tom Fazi, Game Commission information and education supervisor for Southwest Pennsylvania, referred to the rule change as a "hot potato issue." He said the new law "definitely complicates things" for Wildlife Conservation Officers.

"I suspect [WCOs] are going to see this as a tool taken away from the tool box for the deer management program within those areas," he said. "How will they enforce the political boundaries, and how will this impact deer populations in those areas? It certainly presents a problem for us."

Schlemmer said the rule change was, "part of an ongoing plan for Allegheny County."
"It's a beginning," he said. "I want the hunters to be involved in this."

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