Game Commissioners reduce allotment of doe tags
HARRISBURG — There will be fewer doe licenses, and presumably more deer, across most of Western Pennsylvania this fall.
Pennsylvania Game Commissioners on Friday gave final approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2015-16 hunting and trapping seasons. They also determined how many doe tags to issue.
The 746,500 total is 33,000 fewer — about a 4 percent decline — than last year.
The unit seeing the biggest change is 5C just northwest of Philadelphia. Commissioners changed the boundaries of the unit, making it smaller, and decreased the number of available doe licenses from 95,000 to 70,000.
Commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County said the adjustments, taken together, are meant to better direct hunters to urban areas with too many deer and lessen pressure on more rural lands that had generated a disproportionate number of complaints from hunters.
The number of doe licenses in unit 2C, which takes in Somerset County and parts of Westmoreland, Fayette, Indiana, Cambria, Blair and Bedford counties, is dropping from 38,000 to 31,000.
In unit 2D, which takes in Armstrong County and parts of Butler, Westmoreland, Indiana, Jefferson, Clarion and Venango, tags dropped from 61,000 to 55,5000, while in unit 2A, which takes in Greene County and parts of Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette and Beaver, tags dropped from 46,000 to 43,000.
In only five of 23 units did commissioners follow their biologists’ recommendations.
Commissioners looked at the data provided by staff and settled on numbers meant to allow a few more deer on the landscape while still allowing for healthy habitat, commission president Dave Putnam of Centre County said.
“Commissioners don’t do this lightly,” he said. “We spend a lot of hours going through all of the various numbers.”
In one unexpected development, commissioners also directed executive director Matt Hough to make available to hunters this fall 13,500 disease management area 2 doe tags. They will allow a hunter to shoot an antlerless deer within the boundaries of the disease area, where chronic wasting disease has been found in the wild deer herd.
The commission offered 13,000 such tags to hunters last year. The idea was that they would allow hunters to keep the population stable and, perhaps, slow the spread of the disease.
Just last week, commissioners said they expected to do away with the tags.
Disease area 2 takes in about 77 percent of unit 4A in southcentral Pennsylvania. It’s expanding this fall into southwestern Somerset County.
Given that, commissioners had said they planned to do away with the tags, make all of unit 4A part of the area and just increase the number of regular doe tags to keep deer herds in check.
However, staff had concerns about that approach, commissioner Tim Layton of Windber said.
“I think (disease area permits are) a better tool for us to address our issues in that disease management area,” he said.
Commissioners also adopted a few nondeer changes.
They gave final approval to a change in the mentored youth hunting program. Under the new rules, children younger than 7 can kill a buck or spring gobbler but only if their adult mentor surrenders his harvest tag to them.
Commissioners — responding to a request Thursday from hunters — also moved the last day of the late rabbit season from Feb. 20 to the last day of the month, which will be Feb. 29 next year. The late squirrel and pheasant seasons also were extended.
The board created an otter trapping season, the state’s first in decades, in units 3C and 3D in northeastern Pennsylvania, legalized rifles for fall turkey hunting in units 1A, 1B and 2A in Western Pennsylvania, and adopted a new list of approved locks for cable restraints used by trappers.