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Evaluation of the Michaux State Forest Deer Management Assistance Program

This study provides an opportunity to develop an understanding of hunters perceptions about the use of Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits to manage deer numbers on the Michaux State Forest.

Funding source: Pennsylvania Game Commission and Bureau of Forestry cooperatively

DMAP's intent was to focus hunting activity on specific landscapes (i.e., individual ownerships on private forests and management units on public lands) with the goal of reducing deer pressure to facilitate ecosystem health and forest regeneration. In this study, we specifically seek to understand hunter fidelity, commitment to shared habitat objectives, and constraints and willingness to harvest antlerless deer.

Understanding the effect of deer on various components of Pennsylvania's critical forested ecosystem is a complex, hotly debated, and often acerbic public policy process. Leopold (1946) wrote: "I doubt whether anyone but a forester can fully visualize the process by which excess deer gradually pull down the quality of a forest. I am certain that it is invisible to most laymen, including most deer hunters." While this statement continues to resonate, those involved in decision making about these forests include a broader set of researchers, including ecologists, biologists, natural resource social scientists, and others concerned about the flora and fauna found in Penn's Woods. Unfortunately, much of the science continues to escape the attention and/or acknowledgement of most hunters. Further compounding the challenges of addressing the deer/forest ecosystem debate are rapidly changing forestland ownership patterns, social values and hunting, and forests that have been "pulled" down as a result of a legacy of poor deer management decisions.

To properly resolve the extant deer management dilemma in Pennsylvania we need to fully understand the attitudes and beliefs of the many forest stakeholders in the Commonwealth. We then need to use this knowledge to identify solutions to this wicked problem as environmental stresses from invasive species, people, and climate further exacerbate the health and vitality of our forests and threaten the many social, ecological, and economic values they provide.

This study uses a mixed methods approach. To begin to frame the project, we will conduct key informant (KI) interviews with resource managers and those who represent or know the hunting community in the region. Managers will include Bureau of Forestry District staff. We will also seek interviews with PA Game Commission wildlife conservation officers and resource managers. The KIs directly involved with the hunting community might include officers in sportsman organizations, organized hunting clubs, merchants, and recognized "alpha" hunters. KIs will provide an expanded understanding of local issues, constraints, opportunities, and opinions.

Using information drawn from the KIs, a mail or phone survey will be designed to create a wider and more generalizable perspective on the DMAP hunting experience on the Michaux State Forest. The instrument developed from the will be administered to hunters who in the past requested DMAP permits for the Forest.

Leopold, A. 1946. The Deer Dilemma. Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin. Vol. 11:8-9. pgs 3-5.

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