Commentary: Pa. moves up deer season, stokes controversy

As we celebrate Earth Day 2019 at the outset of spring, a recent announcement brings renewed attention to a late-fall tradition: deer season in Pennsylvania. As a way to make things more convenient for would-be hunters, Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) officials moved the start of deer season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, up from the Monday. While the change has its supporters, detractors have countered with the aged-old criticism of hunting damages the environment.

Clearly, more hunting opportunities means more folks on the road, potentially adding to air pollution. Further, more people in the woods mean more possibility of leaving eco-footprints such as garbage, discarded carcasses or spent ammo.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

But it is unfair to extrapolate from one to the other, especially considering that the evidence from fines does not support the charge that hunters are less conscious and caring than others regarding degradation of the environment.

Conversely, there are a plethora of ways in which hunters perpetuate conservation, whether in Pennsylvania or anywhere else. One of the most important functions of wildlife officials is habitat management, including control of species population, protection against extinction, dealing with nuisance cases, and preventing diseases. When this vital activity is ignored, you get the kind of imbalance which often cannot be rectified.

Second, revenue from hunting licenses, fines, and other services is utilized in order to protect habitat. Whether the earlier deer season plan in Pennsylvania was done for economic reasons is not easy to surmise, but there are points on both sides.

From the standpoint of gun sellers, however, the shift to post-Thanksgiving Saturday means less sales that day and the prospect of having to open for business on Thanksgiving itself to make up the loss.

Certainly, hunting prey species such as deer help to prevent overpopulation of that animal. One of the drawbacks from overpopulation is damage to property. Like other states, Pennsylvania officials carefully weigh prospective harvest numbers each year before setting the annual season rules. Given the rich resources and past patterns, those officials obviously determined that there would be little if any negative fallout from beginning deer season a few days earlier than usual.

Should there be an excessive harvest which upsets the ecosystem, PGC staff can always move the date back to the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Finally, it should be noted that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has programs which emphasize youth education and anti-poaching. Additionally, the NRA has partnered with Pennsylvania and four other states to administer the Hunters for the Hungary Program, which furnishes venison to thousands of families and thereby makes efficient use of leftover or donated meat.

The Pennsylvania deer season hunting controversy should remind us that our attention and concern toward environmental issues must be perpetual, not limited to any season of the year.

While there are unfortunate exceptions, most hunters who grew up in the era of the first Earth Day and the subsequent environmental movement have demonstrated the same commitment to conservation as others, and then some.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University. A native of Pennsylvania, he hunted deer and bear as a teenager. Dr. Hoff worked for Clean Water Action Project in Washington, DC in 1980.

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