In some Pittsburgh and Philadelphia suburbs, unchecked deer herds are a hazard on the roadways, a nuisance in the gardens and a headache for the state Game Commission.
Wildlife managers report that in areas surrounding cities where hunting access is restricted, habitat used by all wildlife is hampered by uncontrolled whitetail expansion. In many neighborhoods deer-vehicle collisions are a serious threat. Other negative deer-human contacts include garden browsing and frightening backyard face-offs with hormone-addled deer. Hunters trying to squeeze between blocks of posted property have awkward run-ins with landowners.
"In urban deer management, the Game Commission is falling on its face," said Robinson resident Randy Santucci, president of Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. "Just jacking up the doe permits doesn't solve the problem -- it's up to 61,000 in 2B."
At a recent meeting with the Board of Game Commissioners, Santucci presented ideas intended to help the agency to "reduce the urban deer population."
Did he say "reduce?" For years, Unified Sportsmen has aggressively attacked the Game Commission's deer management plan on the grounds that too many deer were being killed, asserting that the agency didn't have the backs of Keystone State hunters. Twice in the last decade Unified challenged the agency in Commonwealth Court in unsuccessful bids to reverse the intentional reduction of the deer population.
In what could be seen as a softening of tactics, Unified Sportsmen's president is now proposing ideas that would help the Game Commission to trim deer populations in urban areas. Santucci said he understands the irony.
"This is something from outside the box," he said, "to help address the economic impact of hunters no longer going to camps in the mountains where there used to be lots of deer, and problems in the suburbs where they have the opposite problem of too many deer."
Santucci's special regulations deer proposal, which he called less of a "plan" and more of an "idea," would target does in problem areas. The system he calls "tri-tag" or "earn a buck" would be an archery-only program. Hunters would apply for permits to hunt deer in problem urban areas that could be as narrowly focused as the township level. The tag would permit the hunter to take two does and buck. But because deer are most effectively controlled through managing does, an antlerless deer would have to be killed before the hunter could take a buck. Also, there would be no antler restrictions in the "tri-tag" special regulations areas.
"The buck you take on the special regulations tag would not count against the buck you're entitled to on your statewide license," he said, "but you couldn't get a doe tag anywhere else in the state. ... Possibly you could buy more doe tags [in the special regs area]. That would concentrate your focus on the urban area, but you'd still be able to use your statewide license to hunt elsewhere."
Santucci said his suggestion would encourage hunters who live in urban areas to help thin herds of problem deer close to home, without restricting their mountain deer hunts.
"I live in Robinson. Say we wanted to start a tri-tag program here," he said. "[The Game Commission] would assess the deer problem and issue a small number of tri-tags -- maybe as few as 50 deer might need to removed from one small area. They'd allocate the tags and hunters would apply for them, archery only."
Under his proposition, Santucci would have to shoot a doe before targeting a buck or another doe.
"But then I could still go with my buddies to my deer camp and try for another buck," he said. "This is where the economics of it comes in -- I could take my wallet to the mountains and spend money around my camp where they're really hurting from not as many hunters because there aren't as many deer there anymore."
Santucci suggested his idea to commissioner Brian Hoover, who presented it to Game Commission staff for review.
"It's just an idea ... a basic premise that can be modified," he said. "But it might help give them some new ideas on how to deal with some of the problems we're having with managing these deer."