Falling number of deer hunters in Pennsylvania raises questions about the future | News
HARRISBURG (TNS) – With large numbers of hunters leaving the sport without enough newcomers to replenish the ranks, national wildlife agencies will have to consider new ways to manage deer populations and find the money to paying for wildlife conservation, according to a senior deer researcher at Penn State.
“Recreational deer hunting is the main tool available to national wildlife agencies to manage the resource, but over the next 10 years we are going to see a steep decline in the number of hunters,” said Duane Diefenbach, professor wildlife ecology assistant. at the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“A few states still have a large number of hunters, but it’s happening very quickly across all state agencies. In the next 10 to 15 years, that’s going to have to change. The question is what alternative tools are available to meet this deer management challenge?”
In Pennsylvania, where hunters numbered 1.3 million in the early 1980s, overall general hunting license sales in 2020 were 887,221. From 2010 to 2020, resident adult license sales increased from 647,242 to 577,140, while Senior Resident Licenses increased from 30,447 to 31,841 and Junior Resident/Youth Mentored Licenses and Permits increased from 114,274 to 92,738.
Wildlife agencies like the Pennsylvania Game Commission follow the North American wildlife conservation model, which views wildlife as a public resource not owned by individual landowners and relies on revenue from permit sales hunting largely to pay for wildlife conservation.
In most states, including Pennsylvania, white-tailed deer attract hunters and generate much of the revenue from hunting license sales.
“Compared to the general population, the demographics and residency of big game hunters have changed little over the past 30 years,” Diefenbach wrote in a chapter of the recently published book, “Harvest of Fish and Wildlife: New Paradigms for Sustainable Management”.
Diefenbach co-authored the chapter, “The Future of Ungulate Species Management: White-tailed Deer as a Case Study,” with Matthew Knox and Christopher Rosenberry, deer biologists at the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission, respectively.
They noted that national hunting, fishing and wildlife recreation surveys from 1991 and 2016 show that big game hunters remained over 90% male and 97% white, while the American population is 48% male and that non-whites have gone from 15 to 22% of the population.
“The lack of change in the characteristics of big game hunters, relative to the general population, indicates that hunting does not seem to appeal to the fastest growing portion of the US population,” Diefenbach said. “Despite efforts to increase the number of hunters, the age structure of big game hunters indicates that the decline in numbers will continue in the future. Big game hunters are much older than the general population.
In 1991, 41% of the US population was over the age of 45, rising to 52% in 2016. Hunters over the age of 45 rose from 28% to 60% over the same period.
To control deer populations, which can quickly reach crushing levels with a corresponding increase in vehicle collisions and damage to forests and farmers’ fields, wildlife managers calculate and target the number of female deer that should be harvested. by hunters each year.
As hunter populations decline, increasing and reducing the number of deer licenses sold each year may not be enough to generate enough harvest to control the herd, and wildlife managers will need to consider new strategies to deal with them. to a shortage of hunters.
For example, to increase the harvest of antlerless deer in Virginia, wildlife managers implemented a “make money” program, Diefenbach explained.
“So once a hunter in Virginia harvests an antlered deer, then he must harvest at least one antlerless deer before [he or she may] harvest a second antler buck,” he said.
“I’m not saying it’s something that should be done now in states with more hunters, but it’s a tool for when we don’t have enough hunters. It’s a way to encourage hunters to harvest more deer per hunter. This must certainly be done before more drastic measures are considered.
Head of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State, Diefenbach has conducted and overseen more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies over the past 20 years, monitoring hundreds of deer that have been captured and fitted with radio or GPS collars.
He worked for the Game Commission for seven years before coming to Penn State.