Airport deer hunt yields limited harvest

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Lottery applications: 2,933. Hunters chosen: 157. Total deer harvest: 11. Doe harvest: 4.

By the numbers, the Oct. 5 through Jan. 11 archery-only lottery deer hunt on 2,362 acres of Pittsburgh International Airport-leased county land in Findlay seems under-whelming.

Supporters call it a start.

The hunt was held on property west of Business Route 376 that had been closed to public hunting since 2008 when it was posted by the Airport Authority. Program sponsors State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny, said the special hunt was initiated to address constituents' complaints about denial of hunting access.

While the Game Commission generally supported the special hunt, one agency source, two local deer processors and experienced hunters criticized the Airport Authority's structuring of the hunt as inadequate to control a local deer population that has spiraled out of control in the years since hunting was banned. Road kills, residents' complaints and agricultural losses increased after the property was posted. With limited hunter access and little incentive to target does, it was speculated that the special hunt might partially satisfy disgruntled local hunters but fail to manage the resource.

Law enforcement problems associated with the hunt were few -- two hunters were fined for failure to wear orange. But concerns about the hunt's usefulness as a tool of population control were validated, say critics, by the low harvest figures. According to deer biologists and other wildlife authorities, population control is maintained by controlling does and habitat. Take out a buck and you've removed one deer. Harvest a doe, which on average gives birth to two fawns annually, and you've removed three deer -- in several years the elimination of that one doe will have prevented the births of dozens of deer.

Sen. Smith said he and Rep. Mustio are expected to meet soon with Airport Authority staff for a post-hunt debriefing.

"We want to talk about the positive things and the problems associated with the hunt, and hear from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hunters and the Game Commission," he said.

If continued as expected, the pilot project could evolve in its second year.

"We want to put a meeting together sooner rather than later," said Sen. Smith. "We'll have a greater opportunity to hear everyone's concerns and suggestions on where the program is headed as we move forward in the next six months."

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