Anyone who knows Gary knows he has to have free long distance service and unlimited cell phone minutes. He readily admits, “I’ll talk ‘til you drop.” He didn’t disappoint as we visited over the phone from his home in Mendocino County, CA recently. These days, the former Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) biologist works as a scientist for the environmental consulting firm of Normandeau Associates, Inc. Gary has been working with nuclear power and wind energy companies to minimize adverse impacts to wildlife by their facilities and to find ways to actually enhance their habitats. He is also assisting the Federal Highway Administration to document the rate of deer-vehicle collisions and offer solutions for lowering the rate of accidents.
Gary also tried his hand at a little black-tailed deer management in California as a way to be involved with the community. He was asked by the Mendocino County Blacktail Association to meet with the Mendocino National Forest managers concerning their forest management plan. The plan states that the forest will use prescribed fire as a way to enhance understory growth as a food source for wildlife, but the forest supervisor had not been doing that. The Blacktail Association was seeing a decline in the deer population and wanted the burns to increase food for deer.
Before the meeting, Gary met with the California Department of Fish and Game biologists and asked for their input and help in getting the Forest Service to implement its plan. They readily agreed, but asked him, if we get the Forest Service to burn to enhance deer habitat, then what will you do? Gary was about to find out about deer management in California, and what he heard made him “bleed”.
In 2009, less than 4 percent of all deer harvested were does, almost all on private lands. Does can’t be harvested on public lands without a mandate from the county government. And no county that Gary knows of has a plan for harvesting does, and no doe tags have been issued since the 1950s. (A Unified Sportsmen’s paradise.)
Gary told me the state has no deer management plan in place, but that it’s now working on a strategic plan to address deer. It does have a management program that provides economic incentives for private landowners who adopt a plan and allow hunting and other forms of recreation.
Gary began to realize just how progressive Pennsylvania has been in recent years, and he is proud of all the PGC is doing in the area of deer management. He says his California experience took him back to another time. Just as in Pennsylvania, ecologists in California warned managers to harvest does back in the 50s, but they got no response.
Gary is an alternate member of a hunting club that controls about 3,000 acres. Only eight hunters have deer hunting permits for the ranch. It is covered by grasslands and shrubby oaks. The riparian areas are good places to find deer, and the upland areas are quite steep and covered by dense vegetation called chaparral. It provides excellent escape cover and food for deer.
Gary explains that hunters put on drives just like we do here, but on some parts of the ranch, you can’t see past 15 feet in front of you. Often during the drives, wild pigs of all sizes come running out squealing like, well, wild pigs.
For six weekends, he and the seven other deer hunters have been camping at the ranch and hunting every day. Over the course of the six weekends, Gary has seen a total of 20 deer, nineteen does and a four-point buck. He saw the buck as he was driving down the road. If he were hunting, he would have shot it, because there you are expected to shoot every buck that you see. Any buck with two points to a side or higher is legal. Blacktails there have small antlers, normally with three points to a side. Bucks with 4 points to a side are very rare.
Gary was also surprised by some other hunting numbers in California. Pennsylvania has so many more hunters than California. We have almost 13 million residents and about 1 million hunters. In California, where 40 million people live, only about 200,000 people hunt.
He calculated less than 186,000 people hunt deer. Pennsylvania has over five times more deer hunters than the huge state of California.
I was surprised that more people don’t hunt, considering all the expansive national forests there. But Gary says there is a lot of social pressure not to hunt, especially on public lands.
The state’s fish and game annual report states that 27,900 deer were harvested in 2009. Only 646 of those were does and 27,254 were bucks. Of the total, archers killed 2,806 deer. Only 15 percent of hunters had success in harvesting a deer.
Gary said, “It shook me up!” It mirrors the decades of Pennsylvania’s emphasis on the buck harvest and the underharvest of does.
In California, the cost of a hunting license is $41.50. In addition, the first deer tag is $27.85 and a second will cost the hunter $34.65.
Hunters there don’t have much clout because their numbers are so small they are irrelevant to legislators. Since California has such a long coastline, marine fisheries get all the attention. There seems to be many layers of government there, just like here. The big umbrella office is the Natural Resources Agency. Under it is the Department of Fish and Game. Under it is the Fish and Game Commission and the Wildlife Conservation Board. (By the way, the Fish and Game Commission there has an opening for a new Executive Director.)
Regarding John Eveland (visit our Sept. 15 post, “Deer management makes good theatre), during our conversation, Gary brought him up without me even asking. Gary recalled that he met him once in high school, as a farm boy in Lackawanna County. He didn’t know that John was a graduate student, but seeing him work with bears looked fun and set off some things in his young impressionable mind. But he had forgotten all about that until recently, when people began to ask him about Eveland. Gary’s recollections of John are quite different from his own.
Gary said it was George Matula who got him excited about studying bears. Gary’s father introduced the two in 1972 and they became friends. Gary believes it was Dr. J.S. Lindzey of Penn State who was responsible for the first bear plan for the state. Gary could not recall any Eveland documents relating to a bear management plan, so “he had no influence” on Gary. Eveland has never worked for the PGC. In any case, Gary said that Eveland has overstated his impacts on today’s bear and elk management.
More tomorrow. – Roxane Palone