Hunters’ Help Critical for Deer-Forest Study

You can take a deer out of the forest, but you can’t take the forest out of deer management – the two are too closely linked.

Forests provide food and cover for deer and other wildlife. And deer, as primary consumers of forest plants, can impact forest health and, thus, their own habitat and habitat for other wildlife.


Pennsylvania hunters are being asked to help with a new deer-forest research study.

Pennsylvania hunters are being asked to help with a new deer-forest research study.

The deer-forest connection couldn’t be much stronger. And that’s why the Pennsylvania Game Commission for decades has studied the relationship between deer and the forests in which they live, and has used those and other findings in its deer-management decisions.

As the years progressed, the methods used to measure forest health became more sophisticated. A higher level of detail on factors affecting tree regeneration became available as a result. Today, the data the Game Commission uses in determining forest health represents the best that has ever been available.

However, no monitoring system is perfect. And, as a result, the Game Commission and its research partners have begun a study to answer a simple question: Can we do better?

Research Study Launched
The Game Commission, in partnership with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania State University, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, recently launched a new study into the impacts deer have on forest regeneration, and the current methods used to evaluate those impacts.

The Deer-Forest Study also will assess hunter activities and experiences.

In the field, forest regeneration data, deer impacts, deer populations and forest-management practices will be monitored. In addition, hunters will be surveyed to gather information on their activities while hunting the study areas.

“A primary concern and consideration for the Game Commission is that the data we use accurately reflect the effects of deer on forests,” said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section. “Deer are not the only factor affecting forest regeneration, but our assessment of deer impacts on forests is the most important habitat measure used in deer-management recommendations.”

Rosenberry said evaluating the role of deer in forest regeneration, as measured by the deer-impact assessment, and making responsible adjustments, will benefit hunters in a number of ways.

The study will provide new insight into the effect of deer on forest regeneration. Given their browsing in the forest understory, deer often are an easy target when it comes to lagging forest regeneration. But they’re not the only factor. And Rosenberry said the study will help to ensure that misplaced blame doesn’t fall on deer in cases where deer aren’t the cause of slowed regeneration.

A better understanding of deer impacts in real-world conditions in Pennsylvania also will help ensure that any recommendations to reduce deer populations due to forest impacts are truly necessary.

“Recommendations to reduce deer populations are not taken lightly,” Rosenberry said. “And this study is designed to strengthen the data upon which future recommendations are based.”

In the last decade, the Game Commission has evaluated key components of its deer research program. Harvest estimates, fawn-to-doe ratios, population monitoring and methods of gathering citizen input have been evaluated and published in scientific journals.

The findings from the commission’s research also are incorporated into the deer program, and have improved the commission’s management and understanding of whitetails and deer conflicts.

The Deer-Forest Study represents the next step in improving the deer program, Rosenberry said.

Hunters’ Help Needed
But the study can’t be completed without hunters’ help. Those hunting in the areas being studied will provide critical input.

Study areas are located within Bald Eagle, Rothrock and Susquehannock state forests on properties enrolled in the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). Study areas are marked with signs in parking lots and along roads.

Hunters must register when hunting these study areas. Hunters can register by visiting the white-tailed deer page at the Game Commission’s website, then clicking on the “Deer-Forest Study” link in the “Research and Surveys” category.

After deer season concludes, hunters will be mailed a survey to record their hunting success and experiences. Individual surveys will remain confidential. Only summary information will be provided as public information.

“Understanding hunter effort, hunter success rates, deer harvests and hunter opinions and observations is a critical part of the study,” Rosenberry said. “We are relying on hunters to provide these important data by registering.”

More information about the Deer-Forest Study is available online at the Game Commission’s website,

One thought on “Hunters’ Help Critical for Deer-Forest Study

  1. BAPAKuss

    OK, the PA Game Commissions deer management (or lack of) is greatly skewed. Living in and hunting WMU 4D for my entire life, I can honestly say they’ve done very little for the deer. Their population studies are a joke, in fact, I would like to see evidence of the studies done in this WMU that would actually produce a reliable figure. A lot of the tops of the mountains are reclaimed strip mines that in most cases all that was ever put in their place are rows of jack pines that offer little in terms of habitat. Most of these areas have been choked out by ferns that about 11 years ago, the PGC decided to fence in and claim that the reason the forest hasn’t regrown here is due to deer. Not revealing the fact that ferns blanket the ground and starve oxygen and sunlight from anything underneath it. To boot, when they fenced these sections in, they sprayed the ferns to kill them off. Some of the sections have seen some good growth, while others are much less impressive with very little quality treer growing. It is mainly shrubs that are taking over. Most recently, they spent big money regrading access roads and applying new shale. It has made the roads much nicer to drive, but what good is the drive if there are no deer at the end of it? Most ethical hunters in this area would attest to the failures of the PGC in the last 10 plus years. It is disgusting when you see nothing being done to improve the deer habitat, yet see them making room for logging, natural gas drilling and windmills. So pardon me when I would absolutely refuse to participate in any of their surveys.

Comments are closed.