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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is Economic Decline Tied to Fewer Deer?

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 22, 2013.)

It’s no secret that much of Pennsylvania north of Interstate 80 is suffering economic doldrums. And it might not surprise you that some people attribute a depressed economy to the fact that the deer population has declined.

There is no doubt the deer population isn’t what it was 10 years ago, before the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s herd reduction policy began. However, the deer population is now at the level the biologists want, and herd reduction is no longer the policy of the PGC. We’re in a stabilization mode where changes in antlerless allocations are generally year-to-year tweaks to keep the population in the desired range within each Wildlife Management Unit.

Deer can devastate a habitat, 
but by themselves deer do not drive an economy.

The people who connect struggling small businesses to the lower deer population usually cite privately owned establishments that serve deer hunters in November – including restaurants, gas stations, small grocery stores, and sporting goods stores – as dying breeds in a deerless region.

However, such businesses often struggle wherever they are. Yes, the deer population has declined in the northern big woods counties, but is that the only reason – or even the chief reason – these businesses fight to stay open?

I can think of many reasons they no longer get the week-long shot-in-the-arm from November’s deer hunters – and all have a bigger impact than the decline in deer. Here are just a few things anyone should be able to notice:
  1. Higher gas prices – What was once a $30 fill-up is now an $80 fill-up. That’s a reason for people to look for places to hunt closer to home.
  2. More deer more evenly distributed – The north woods used to be the hotspot for hunting, but now a hunter can have a good hunt anywhere in the state.
  3. Demographic changes – Dad used to bring three boys to camp, but he’s now in declining health, and two sons have moved out of state. The one who hasn’t has only one son to take hunting, and he’s not very excited about going.
  4. Competing interests – Team sports and a host of other activities have a grip on the souls of kids like never before. Take your own poll – ask teenagers if they would rather “hang out with friends” or head to the north woods.
  5. Loss of manufacturing jobs – With that comes a declining population. Money always goes where people are, so people go where money is. A thriving economy needs people.
  6. Fewer places to hunt – Family farms have been disappearing, more land is posted against hunting, and land once open to hunting is now developed into housing and retail tracts.
  7. Societal influences against hunting – Loudmouths like PETA, the HSUS and anti-hunting celebrities influence many kids, and the strident political message that guns are evil aids and abets them. The anti-hunting movement is dead wrong on facts, but is a powerful philosophical force shaping kids minds.
I’m not insensitive to the plight of small businesses in rural areas. In fact, I’m saddened to see much of the broader conflict in our nation as a tug-o-war between rural and urban. The battle over gun control can largely be defined that way. Terms like “fly-over country” and “brain drain” illustrate that – as rural kids leave for college, it’s hard to bring them back.

If the PGC would manage deer in order to keep local economies afloat, it would fail on two fronts. Economies would still suffer, and such a goal would take the agency far away from its mandate to manage every wildlife species, not just the ones we hunt.

Deer can devastate a habitat, but by themselves deer do not drive an economy. Yes, the deer population is lower than it used to be. Yes, that has an effect on the interests of people. But the herd reduction program did not decimate the deer herd. Pennsylvania has a healthy deer herd, and if you know where to look, you can still find plenty of them, and nice ones, in the big woods of northern Pennsylvania.
Cody Gulvas, Leo Simbeck, Cory Gulvas and his fiancée Ashlee Early know where to look for deer. They rounded up an impressive collection of Pennsylvania shed antlers in 2013. Where did they find more than 80 antlers? In some of the most rugged mountainous areas of northern Pennsylvania -- the places where many people say the deer herd has been decimated. And all came from public land. (Photo courtesy of Denny Gulvas.)

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it is even debatable, deer are a factor in economics in many ways. Exactly how much is debatable. I think the effect is significant.

12:07 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Respectfully, this post sounds like nothing more than pgc company line drivel from a pgc apologist. Just mho.

12:09 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steves excuses:

"1.Higher gas price"

Not a good reason. WIth reasonable management one shouldn't need to drive far for decent deer numbers.

"2.More deer more evenly distributed –"

Complaints are not limited to northcentral. Pretty much statewide. Just ask senators from areas like the SW if hunters there are happy. The answer will be a resounding NO.

"3.Demographic changes".

Convenient excuse. But the conditions exist in other states also that haven't declined as pa has.

"6.Fewer places to hunt – Family farms have been disappearing, more land is posted against hunting, and land once open to hunting is now developed into housing and retail tracts."

We have more public land than any state I am aware of in the east... And thanks to the "plan" its also some of the worst hunting in the east.

Hope that has cleared up some of the authors misunderstandings.

12:15 PM

 
Blogger Steve Sorensen said...

I'm a little surprised how much conversation this column has generated here and elsewhere.

Two comments worthy of making: (1.) Sometimes a person's tone makes it sound like he disagrees. but his actual words show he agrees.

(2.) As far as being a PGC apologist goes, I seldom talk to any one from the PGC, and when I do I'm trying to get a question answered for something I'm publishing. I have never talked to anyone at the PGC about what I said in this column. I don't know if the PGC would agree with me or not. I just tell it like I see it and try my best to support what I say with facts.

6:53 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great column Steve with open minded observations. Deer harvests remain high (statewide) , breeding males after all seasons are protected (antler restrictions) ,neonatal mortality virtually nonexistent now due to resource being in balance with its habitat, early successional (upland birds)stable or on the rise in Northern tier ,tons of happy hunters now who enjoy "hunting" successfully for days rather than bushwhacking in first 4 hours of "opening day", hunters harvesting 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 year old deer instead of 1 1/2 year old deer. As far as economic impact to local economies, I would think that any business trying to acquire the vast majority of it's annual revenues inside a 1 to 5 day window would be described as EXTREMELY HIGH RISK. I think that the natural gas activity in the northern tier has generated a more reliable and steady (365 days a year) revenue stream source for local businesses. The new ventures ( motels ,sheets, restaurants)can also be enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts. Trying to blame local business collapse in the northern tier on the first day of deer season is frugal in light of current overall business conditions there.

5:51 PM

 
Blogger Steve Sorensen said...

"We have more public land than any state I am aware of in the east... And thanks to the "plan" its also some of the worst hunting in the east." How does one explain those 80-plus shed antlers, all from public land?

8:44 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one said there were NO deer. And I am not surprised to find many sheds if one (or likely more people) covers a ton of square miles to do so.

9:10 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Deer harvests remain high (statewide) "

Yes. If you can believe one word out of elmerton avenue that is... And their "harvest inflation" calculations.

" 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 year old deer instead of 1 1/2 year old deer."

uh, for most its NO DEER as opposed to 1.5 year olds. And there were plenty of 2.5 plus befor in many areas.

"As far as economic impact to local economies, I would think that any business trying to acquire the vast majority of it's annual revenues inside a 1 to 5 day window would be described as EXTREMELY HIGH RISK"

Last I checked, deer seasons were in from Oct through January. And that doesn't count those going to scout or going to prepare camps in off season.

"Trying to blame local business collapse in the northern tier on the first day of deer season is frugal in light of current overall business conditions there."

Actually imho, it actually shows how the deer situation MAGNIFIES those issues further. If economics conditions aside from the deer situation were great, then deer wouldn't matter one way or the other would they?

9:15 PM

 

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